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MTS Oceanos portside.jpg
Career
Name: Oceanos
Owner: Epirotiki Lines
Port of registry: Piraeus, Greece
Launched: 12 July 1952
Out of service: 4 August 1991
Fate: Sank
General characteristics
Tonnage: 14,000 GT
Length: 153 m (502 ft)
Beam: 20 m (66 ft)
Draft: 7 m (23 ft)
Decks: 6-9
Speed: 18.5 knots (maximum)
16 knots (cruise)
Capacity: 550 passengers
Crew: 250

MTS Oceanos was a French-built and Greek-owned cruise ship which sank off South Africa's eastern coast on 4 August 1991. Launched in July 1952 by Forges Chantiers de la Gironde in Bordeaux as the Jean Laborde, it was the last of four sister ships built for Messageries Maritimes. The ships were used on the MarseillesMadagascarMauritius service. The Jean Laborde underwent several name changes including Mykinai, Ancona, and Eastern Princess; finally, in 1976, it was registered in Piraeus, Greece, under the name of Oceanos.[1]

After a successful 1988 cruise season in South Africa, the Oceanos received an eight-month charter from TFC Tours (now Starlight Cruises) of Johannesburg. The Oceanos was in a state of neglect, with loose hull plates, return valves stripped for repair parts after a recent trip, and a 10 cm (3.9 in) hole in the "watertight" bulkhead between the generator and sewage tank.[1]

Contents

Final voyage

Sinking of the Oceanos
MTS Oceanos is located in South Africa
MTS Oceanos wreck

On 3 August 1991, the Oceanos set out from East London, South Africa, headed to Durban. It headed into 40-knot winds and 9 m (30 ft) swells.[1] Usually there would have been a "sail-away" party on deck with musicians and entertainers Moss Hills and Tracy Hills. However, due to the rough sea conditions, this was held inside in the Four Seasons lounge. Although Moss and Tracy and other members of the ship's entertainment crew did their best to get a party atmosphere going, most passengers chose to stay in their cabins.

The storm worsened as the evening progressed and when the first sitting of dinner was served, the waiters could hardly carry the trays of food without dropping something. Eventually the ship was rolling about from side to side so badly that crockery and cutlery began sliding off the tables and potted plants were falling over.

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Flooding

At approximately 21:30 UTC+2, while 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.[2] 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 10 cm (3.9 in) 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.

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. No alarm was raised. 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.[3]

Rescue efforts

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 settlements of The Haven and Hole in the Wall (32°2′0″S 29°6′36″E / 32.033333°S 29.11°E / -32.033333; 29.11 (Hole in the Wall)), about 10 km (6.2 mi) south of Coffee Bay. Of the 16 rescue helicopters, 13 were South African Air Force Pumas, nine of which were responsible for hoisting and evacuating 225 passengers off the deck of the sinking ship.[4]

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.

Final moments

The following day, at approximately 15:30 UTC+2, the Oceanos rolled over onto her side and her stern rose upright and sank. The bow struck the sand 90 m (300 ft) below the surface, whilst more than 60 m (200 ft) of her stern remained aloft a few minutes before also slipping below, coming to rest at 32°07′15″S 29°07′13″E / 32.12093°S 29.12029°E / -32.12093; 29.12029 (Oceanos wreck)Coordinates: 32°07′15″S 29°07′13″E / 32.12093°S 29.12029°E / -32.12093; 29.12029 (Oceanos wreck) on her starboard side almost perpendicular to the coastline, with her bow facing seaward.

Aftermath

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 stated, "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."[5]

Although perhaps only a coincidence, Epirotiki Lines had within the three years preceding the sinking, lost two other ships:[6] 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.[citation needed]

References

External links


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