MTS Oceanos

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MTS Oceanos portside.jpg
Career
Name:Oceanos
Namesake:Jean Laborde
Owner:Epirotiki Lines
Operator:Epirotiki Lines
Port of registry:Piraeus, Greece
Launched:12 July 1952
Completed:June 1953
Out of service:4 August 1991
Fate:Sunk
Status:Wreck lies near Coffee Bay, Eastern Cape, South Africa
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
 
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MTS Oceanos portside.jpg
Career
Name:Oceanos
Namesake:Jean Laborde
Owner:Epirotiki Lines
Operator:Epirotiki Lines
Port of registry:Piraeus, Greece
Launched:12 July 1952
Completed:June 1953
Out of service:4 August 1991
Fate:Sunk
Status:Wreck lies near Coffee Bay, Eastern Cape, South Africa
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 that sank off South Africa's eastern coast on 4 August 1991. Launched in July 1952 by Forges et Chantiers de la Gironde in Bordeaux as the Jean Laborde, she 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, she 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, check valves stripped for repair parts after a recent trip, and a 10 cm (4 in) hole in the "watertight" bulkhead between the generator and sewage tank.[1]

Contents

Final voyage

Sinking of the Oceanos
MTS Oceanos wreck is located in Eastern Cape
MTS Oceanos wreck

On 3 August 1991, the Oceanos set out from East London, South Africa, headed to Durban. She 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 British entertainers Moss Hills and Tracy Hills. However, due to the rough sea conditions, this was held inside in the Four Seasons lounge; 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.

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. The ship's Chief 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 short circuited them. The ship was left adrift.

The water steadily rose, flowing through the 10 cm (3.9 in) hole in the bulkhead and into the sewage waste disposal tank. Without check valves in the holding tank, the water coursed through the main drainage pipes and rose through the ship, spilling out of showers, toilets, and waste disposal units.

Realising the fate of the ship, the crew fled in panic, neglecting to close the lower deck portholes, which is standard policy during emergencies. No alarm was raised. Passengers remained ignorant of the events taking place until they 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 seven-hour mission in which 16 helicopters were used to airlift 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 hoisted 225 passengers off the deck of the sinking ship.[4]

All 571 people on board were saved. Moss 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[5] directed the efforts of the entertainment staff, which included Tracy Hills and Robin Boltman,[6] to assist the passengers. Butler, Hills and Hills' wife Tracy were among the last five to be rescued from the ship.[7]

The shipwreck is also possibly the last instance where women and children were given priority when loading the lifeboats. Oceanos' cruise director Lorraine Betts ordered women and children to come through to the remaining boats after many officers and crew abandoned ship. Later on in the disaster, a severe starboard list rendered the remaining lifeboats useless; the remaining passengers had to be airlifted onto South African Air Force helicopters by means of a safety harness. Betts again insisted that women and children be rescued first.

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 at right angles to the coastline, with her bow facing seaward. The last circa 15 minutes of the ship's sinking were captured on film and broadcasted by ABC News.

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 to arrange for a rescue effort, and then supervised the rescue from a helicopter. Avranas stated, "When I order abandon the ship, it doesn't matter what time I leave. Abandon is for everybody. If some people like to stay, they can stay."[8]

A Greek board of inquiry found Avranas and four officers negligent in their handling of the disaster.[9]

Epirotiki Lines had lost two other ships within the three years preceding the sinking:[10] the company's flagship Pegasus only two months before, and the MTS Jupiter, three years before.

Dateline NBC aired a documentary of this incident on May 23, 2010. The sinking of the ship is the subject of a song called "Oceanos" by Celtic rock band COAST.[11] The accident was also discussed in the April 18th, 2012 episode of Nova titled "Why Ships Sink", focusing mainly on the Costa Concordia accident and how it related to the Titanic. Moss Hills was interviewed in the special and related that some years later he was on board when the MS Achille Lauro sank (then named the StarLauro).

Wreck

The Oceanos wreck lies at a depth of between 92 m (302 ft) and 97 m (318 ft), about 5 km (3.1 mi) offshore.[1] Divers have visited the wreck site but currents are strong and there are many sharks in the area so diving is difficult.[1] Photographs taken in 2002 show that the bridge section of Oceanos has collapsed.[12]

References

  1. ^ a b c d e Philip G. Van Rensburg (2004-03-05). "Diving the Oceanos". DeeperBlue. http://www.deeperblue.com/article.php/439/28. Retrieved 2009-04-14. 
  2. ^ "Disasters at Sea: MTS Oceanos". All at Sea Network. 28 January 2007. http://www.allatsea.co.za/shipwrecks/oceanoswreck.htm. Retrieved 2009-04-14. 
  3. ^ Howard G. Chua-Eoan (June 24, 2001). "Disasters: Going, Going . . .". Time. http://205.188.238.109/time/magazine/article/0,9171,157677,00.html. Retrieved 2009-04-14. 
  4. ^ Dubois, Paul. "Puma SA 330 in SAAF Service". http://www.sa-transport.co.za/aircraft/articles/puma/puma_sa_330.html. Retrieved 2009-07-08. 
  5. ^ "Oceanos Cruise Ship Sinking". Amazing Videos. M90. 1991-08-05. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9BFux2AAMso. 
  6. ^ Sergay, Richard; Donaldson, Sam (1991-08-05). "Oceanos". ABC News. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fOYvw-MWYNc. 
  7. ^ Hills, Moss; Hills, Tracy (1991-08-04). "Oceanos Cruise Ship Sinking". South Africa: Hills. http://www.oceanossinking.com/. 
  8. ^ "Headliners: Yiannis Avranas". The New York Times. 11 August 1991. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D0CE7DA133CF932A2575BC0A967958260. Retrieved 2009-04-14. 
  9. ^ "Costa Concordia Tragedy: Capt. Francesco Schettino Sparks Outrage". Huffington Post. 2012-01-19. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/19/costa-concordia-tragedy-francesco-schettino_n_1215770.html. 
  10. ^ Christopher S. Wren (7 August 1991). "Owner of Lost Greek Cruise Ship Has History of Maritime Mishaps". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/1991/08/07/world/owner-of-lost-greek-cruise-ship-has-history-of-maritime-mishaps.html?scp=2&sq=Oceanos%20ship&st=cse. Retrieved 2009-04-14. 
  11. ^ "COAST - Oceanos". Awen Records. 2010-10-13. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2WXJOvwShYg. Retrieved 2011-02-21. 
  12. ^ Philip G. Van Rensburg (2004-04-02). "Diving the Oceanos, Part Two". DeeperBlue. http://www.deeperblue.com/2004/04/02/diving-the-oceanos-part-ii/. Retrieved 2012-01-15. 

External links