On this day (04/08/1991), the cruise ship Oceanos sank off the South African Coast with the loss of no lives. A massive rescue effort by merchant ships and the South African Air Force supported by the onboard entertainment staff ensured that all passengers and crew were safely evacuated. The actions of the master however were less than satisfactory and he seemingly played no part in the rescue, leaving the ship on one of the first helicopters.
The cause of the disaster was never really adequately explained but in the engine room repairs to a faulty waste disposal system had not been completed and a vital ventilation pipe had been omitted. This pipe ran through the aft watertight bulkhead of the generator room. Non return valves had also been left out of the waste disposal tank. At roughly 09.30 pm, a muffled explosion was heard and the ship lost power. The engineer explained that the ship was taking in water, either from a leak in the hull or after touching ground en route. The water had shorted the generators and immobilised the engines. The hole in the watertight bulkhead was allowing water to flood the waste tank which was then dispersing water throughout the plumbing of the ship and there was nothing that could be done about it except take to the boats.
There is a very good video on YouTube that explains the circumstances very well. However, at some point this link may go 404. You can also use the image below to access the video.
I had sailed on the ship in 1989 and at that time it was the top ship in the Epirotiki fleet, but by the cruise season of 1991 in South Africa this was no longer true. She was originally built as Jean Laborde, and was the last of four sister ships built for Messageries Maritimes. All 4 ships were twin screw with Burmeister and Wain diesels developing 12 500 BHP with a maximum speed of 18,5 knots. They were designed for use on the Marseilles to Madagascar and Mauritius service. Following many name changes and new owners she was acquired by Epirotiki Lines of Greece in 1976 who operated her successfully in Mediterranean waters for many years.
A friend and I had been offered this particular voyage at an extremely good price but fortunately had turned it down as it would have cost too much to fly to East London and back from Durban. The sinking caused a lot of reputational damage to the tour operator but the onboard staff really deserved a lot of praise for their actions. Not all members of the crew followed the captain’s example, and many stayed till the end, assisting in the evacuation of the ship.
The ill fated Achille Lauro was also lost in 1994, and it was en route to South Africa for the cruising season. I am fortunate that I sailed on both of these ships so can look back on it and smile.
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