28 Years after the sinking of the Oceanos, Author and Maritime Lawyer, Andrew Pike has released a book – Against All Odds – about the circumstances surrounding the sinking off the Wild Coast in the Coffee Bay area of the Transkei.
Pike will be hosted by the NSRI this Tuesday 27 August from 15h00 at the Port Elizabeth Deep Sea Angling Club (PEDSAC).
Andrew will be signing copies of the book (R250.00 per copy) which will be on sale in aid of the NSRI – a R70.00 entrance fee includes a small donation to Port Elizabeth Sea Rescue, Tea//Coffee, snacks and a talk by Andrew.
Bookings can be made via Judy – firstname.lastname@example.org or 072 678 1536
MTS Oceanos was a French-built and Greek-owned cruise ship that sank in 1991 due to uncontrolled flooding. Her captain and some of the crew were convicted of negligence for fleeing the ship without helping the passengers, who were subsequently rescued thanks to the efforts of the ship’s entertainers – Moss Hills and Julian Butler.
On 3 August 1991, the Oceanos – initially delayed due to a bomb threat – set out from East London, South Africa and headed for Durban. Captain Yiannis Avranas had been an officer for twenty years and a seaman for thirty. Oceanos headed into 40-knot winds and 30 ft swells. Usually, there would have been a “sail-away” party on deck with the ship’s musicians and British entertainers Moss and Tracy Hills. However, due to the rough seas, this was held inside in the Four Seasons lounge – most passengers chose to stay in their cabins.
While trying to make up time due to the earlier delay, the Oceanos encountered rough seas. Earlier repairs to the waste disposal system had not been completed, which meant that a vital ventilation pipe which ran through the watertight aft bulkhead and the non-return valves were not replaced. It’s believed that after a series of freak waves slamming against the ship the pipe’s shell plating had burst open spilling seawater and began filling the compartment. At about 9:30 pm, a muffled explosion was heard and the Oceanos lost power. The ship started taking on water, rapidly flooding the engine room. By the next morning rescuers found the Oceanos adrift just off Coffee Bay, listing badly to its starboard side.
As no alarm or announcement had been given that the ship was in trouble, several passengers went to the bridge to look for the crew, only to find it unmanned. Moss Hills then used the radio phone to broadcast a Mayday distress call until a ship answered. Of the sixteen rescue helicopters that came out to the ship, thirteen were South African Defence Force (SADF) Pumas, nine of which hoisted 225 passengers off the deck. They were assisted by the lifeboats of the Dutch container ship Nedlloyd Mauritius, which had responded to the distress call.
All 571 people on board were saved. Hills organized the orderly evacuation of passengers by the helicopters and is generally acknowledged as the leading hero of the event. Hills and fellow entertainer Julian Butler directed the efforts of the entertainment staff, which included Hills’ wife Tracy and Robin Boltman, to assist the passengers. According to Boltman, “later in the morning, Captain Avarnasi even contacted me from shore to ask how things were going.” Butler, Moss Hills and Tracy Hills were among the last five to be rescued.
After many officers and crew abandoned ship, women and children were given priority when loading the lifeboats by cruise director Lorraine Betts. Later, after the ship’s list became so severe that the remaining lifeboats were rendered useless, the remaining passengers had to be airlifted onto SADF helicopters by means of a safety harness. Betts again insisted that women and children be rescued first.
The following day at approximately 15:30 UTC+2, the Oceanos rolled over onto her side and sank by the bow at 32.12093°S 29.12029°E. The last fifteen minutes of her sinking was captured on video and broadcast by ABC News.
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