It was a dark and stormy night in 1991 when a magician took over the bridge of the Oceanos, an ageing passenger liner travelling up the Wild Coast.
The captain was nowhere to be found. The ship started taking in water in the auxiliary engine room just a few hours after it had set sail from East London. Panicking, the crew scrambled into the lifeboats, leaving passengers largely to fend for themselves. The ship’s entertainment staff bravely started to calm passengers and coordinated the abandon-ship operation and rescue effort.
The story of this dramatic rescue, which made headlines across the world, is told from the perspective of all the key role players and describes their extraordinary heroism.
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Mon, 19 Aug 2019 | Review by: Breakaway R
A truly inspirational story of survival against the worst possible odds.
TFC Tours, a nationwide travel agency in South Africa, commissioned the Oceanos, to sail from Cape Town, stopping on this occasion in East London to pick up passengers, before sailing overnight to Durban. Many of the passengers who boarded in East London, were either part of the tourist industry or SAA employees – thanks to the discounted prices on offer.
Captain Avranas delayed sailing from East London for several hours because of the weather. Reports of waves between 6 to 10 metres were predicted. Avranas, with thirty years of experience, decided to chance the weather.
From the minute the ship sailed out of port it was lashed on all sides by mountainous waves. Very soon the passengers and crew smelt sewerage and toilets started blocking up. The Chief Engineer needed to take the pipes apart and clear them. In the process of trying to repair this, the sea chest tore from its mountings on the port side. The Chief Engineer immediately asked the Captain to send out Mayday signals as he knew they had no hope of rehousing the sea chest. Unfortunately, his request was denied.
The entertainers onboard became suspicious that something was terribly wrong. It is thanks to these extraordinarily brave people that the passengers were summoned to the lounge and life jackets distributed.
When the Captain eventually sent the Mayday signal and the first lifeboats launched, it wasn't the passengers aboard, but the crew including Captain Avranas. It was left to members of TFC to man the radio and direct the rescue operation.
Once the Mayday went out, Ysterplaat, near Cape Town who coordinates sea rescues went into action and helicopters, medicare support was ordered to the stricken vessel. Ysterplaat and all involved in the rescue knew that time was not on their side because of the area the stricken ship was sinking. Many of the helicopter pilots were not supposed to hoist, let alone in the appalling conditions, but this did not stop them nor the navy's divers from volunteering to hoist the passengers off the ship.
Many ships in the area also immediately turned their ships around to assist the rescue.
Andrew Pike tells the story of this catastrophic event where no one should have survived, to how incredibly brave untrained people managed to save the six hundred people on board with very few serious injuries and no loss of life.
So many people learnt that day that they were not just singers, magicians or managers of companies but true heroes. The pilots, crew, divers, they too not only put their own lives in danger but went beyond the call of duty to ensure that no one person would lose their life.
Everyone should read this book. Andrew Pike’s style felt more like a page-turning thriller, and I literally hid away until I reached the last page. It's a story of such courage. Unfortunately, also unbelievable cowardice from the Captain to the rest of the crew. If it hadn't been for the tenacity and bravery of the passengers, this would have been a story of the horrific loss of life at sea.
Breakaway Reviewers received a copy of the book to review.
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