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Abandon Ship!

Oceanos was a French-built and Greek-owned cruise ship which sank off South Africa's eastern coast on 4 August 1991. On its last cruise the Oceanos was in a state of neglect, with loose hull plates, return valves stripped for repair parts after a recent trip, and a 4” hole in the "watertight" bulkhead between the generators and sewage tank.

On 3 August 1991, the Oceanos set out from East London, South Africa, heading for Durban, into 40-knot winds and 30 ft swells.

That evening, a muffled explosion was heard and the Oceanos lost her power. The ship's engineer reported to the captain that water was entering the hull and flooding the generator room. The generators failed, stopping the auxiliary electrically powered equipment which ran the engines, so the engines came to a stand and the ship was left floating adrift.

The water steadily rose, flowing through the 4” 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.

Realising 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 the captain, 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 rescue the remainder of the passengers and crew.

All 571 people onboard were saved.

The following day, the Oceanos rolled over onto her side and her stern rose upright and sank. The bow struck the sand 300 ft below the surface, whilst more than 200 ft of her stern remained aloft a few minutes before also slipping below.

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.

The year after the sinking, Avranas and several members of his senior crew were found guilty of negligence by the Greek Maritime Board.

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