The Sinking of the Oceanos, 1991

September 15, 2013 4:11am
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I’ve been up most of the night learning about this kind of fascinating, but mostly terrifying account from 22 years ago of the cruise ship Oceanos sinking off the coast of South Africa.

Much like the recent Costa Concordia, the Captain abandoned his ship and left the passengers and most of the crew to fend for themselves, however unlike the more recent disaster, not a single one of the 571 passengers and crew on-board actually died from the incident.

Playing a key part in the evacuation of the ship’s passengers was Moss Hills, who worked on the Oceanos as the lead guitar player, and it’s just incredible to read his account of realizing that something didn’t seem right, then finding that many of the crew and officers were gathering personal belongings without a word to the passengers, then discovering that the ship was in fact taking on water, and finally working with Lorraine Betts, the cruise director, to coordinate an evacuation first into the remaining lifeboats … and then also via airlift by the South Africa Air Force once they discovered that because between some boats being unavailable and the crew abandoned ship only half-filling another, there wasn’t enough room on the rest for everyone who was left…

At one point he talks about having to lash himself to the railing in order to help people into the harness for the helicopters, and photos show pictures of the deck at a 45 degree angle … it truly is a wonder that nobody ended up falling into the sea that night.

Oh wait – one person did! And yet one of the rescuers was able to dive in and save him, too!

This 6-part series from NBC called Miracle on the Wild Coast tells the entire story and includes interviews with a number of the passengers, the guy who fell from the harness into the sea, and of course, the entertainment staff heroes who led the rescue effort in lieu of actual leadership.

The Captain was quoted later as saying, “When I order abandon ship, it doesn’t matter what time I leave. Abandon is for everybody. If some people like to stay, they can stay.”

It’s amazing how a story can make you both lose and gain faith in humanity at the same time.

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