- For the Greek word for the river believed to be encircling the earth by ancient Greeks, see Oceanus
||12 July 1952 |
||Sunk August 4 1991 |
||14,000 gross tons |
||Max:18.5 Cruise:16 knots |
||Between 6 and 9 |
||550 passengers, 250 crew |
was a French
built and Greek
owned cruise ship
which sank off the South Africa
's eastern coast on August 4, 1991. Launched July 1952 by Forges Chantiers de la Gironde in Bordeaux
as the Jean Laborde
, it was the last of 4 sister ships built for Messageries Maritimes
. The ships were used on the Marseilles
service. The Jean Laborde
underwent several name changes including Mykinai
, Eastern Princess
, and finally, in 1976
, it was registered in Piraeus
, Greece, under the name of Oceanos
Service under Epirotiki Lines
Originally built as a passenger/cargo vessel, the Oceanos
underwent massive reconstruction by the time she came to operate as a cruise liner for Epirotiki Lines
. The success of the 1988
cruise season in South Africa was motivation for her return in 1991 on an eight-month charter for TFC Tours of Johannesburg
State of the vessel
It has been reported that the ship was in a state of neglected maintenance with loose hull plates and an unfitted ventilation pipe. It had also had several sewage-holding tank non-return valves stripped for repairs, following problems with bilge
water rising through showers and toilets on a recent trip to Mozambique
. The unfitted ventilation pipe was said to have left a 10 cm hole in the watertight bulkhead
between the generator and the sewage tank.
En route to Durban, the Oceanos set out from the port of East London, South Africa on Saturday, August 3, 1991, into 40-knot winds and swells.
Departure of the crew
Reports indicate that at around 9:30 p.m. off the Wild Coast
of the Transkei
, a muffled explosion was heard and the Oceanos
lost her power following a leak in the engine room's sea chest, a scoop-like device which brings in system cooling water. The ship's engineer reported to Captain Yiannis Avranas that water was entering the hull and flooding the generator room. The generators
were shut down because the rising water would have shorted
them. The supply of power to auxiliary equipment which ran the engines had been severed, so the ship was left floating adrift.
The water steadily rose, flowing through the 4 inch hole in the bulkhead and into the waste disposal tank. Without valves to close on the holding tank, the water coursed through the main drainage pipes and rose like a tide within the ship, spilling out of every shower, toilet, and waste disposal unit connected to the system. There was no stopping the flooding and no hope for the Oceanos.
Realizing the fate of the ship, the crew fled in panic, neglecting to close the lower deck portholes, which is standard policy during emergency procedures. Passengers remained ignorant of the events taking place until they themselves witnessed the first signs of flooding in the lower decks. At this stage, eyewitness accounts reveal that many of the crew, including Captain Avranas, were already packed and ready to depart, seemingly unconcerned with the safety of the passengers.
Nearby vessels responded to the ship's SOS
and were the first to provide assistance. The South African Navy
along with the South African Air Force
launched a massive seven-hour mission in which 16 helicopters were used to airlift the remainder of the passengers and crew to the nearby island settlements of The Haven and Hole in the Wall about south of Coffee Bay. All 571 people onboard were saved, following one of the world’s most dramatic and successful rescue operations of its kind. Entertainers Julian Butler and Moss Hills recorded their efforts to assist the passengers with a home video recorder. Butler, Hills and Hills' wife Tracy were among the last five to be rescued from the ship just before it sank.
At about 3:30 p.m. the following day, the Oceanos
could hold her head up no longer and sank. Her bow hit the sand below the surface, whilst more than of her stern remained aloft; minutes later she was gone. She came to rest at on her starboard side almost perpendicular to the coastline, with her bow facing seaward.
The captain Yiannis Avranas was accused by the passengers of leaving hundreds behind with no one other than the ship's onboard entertainers to help them evacuate. Avranas claimed that he left the ship first in order to arrange for a rescue effort, and then supervised the rescue effort from a helicopter. Avranas was quoted in the New York Times
as saying, "When I give the order abandon ship, it doesn't matter what time I leave. Abandon is for everybody. If some people want to stay, they can stay." The year after the sinking, Avranas and several members of his senior crew were found guilty of negligence by the Greek Maritime Board.
Although perhaps only a coincidence, Epirotiki Lines had within the three years preceding the sinking, lost two other ships , the company's flagship Pegasus only two months before, and the MTS Jupiter'', three years before. The Oceanos had the highest possible safety rating at Lloyd's Register of Shipping.