Oceanos Interview Film Crew from StoryHouse Productions

Oceanos Interview Film Crew from StoryHouse Productions
The Fim Crew - Matthias Kilian (Sound), Andre Goetzmann (Camera), Torsten Berg (Director)

Saturday, 24 October 2009

The Oceanos Sinking - My Experience

 No One Died

You can view some actual footage of the final moments of the Oceanos sinking by clicking the links below.


And some TV news footage at the time on the links below.

My Experience of the sinking

In this day and age, there are very few people who have been ship wrecked, and even fewer who survive to tell the tale.

My story begins some years ago in 1991 when I was working for South African Airways as a Departure Controller at Durban Airport in South Africa. Charles Bothma, a colleague of mine was discussing going on a sea cruise with his wife Toni. He had a brochure from TFC Tours and they were offering a huge discount to airline staff and travel agents on the Oceanos. There were various cruise options, but the one that interested me was an overnight cruise starting in East London and ending with breakfast back in Durban the next morning. I had never been on a sea cruise, and mentioned it to my wife Yvette. She was very keen and suggested we invite our friends Neal and Robyn Shaw to join us. A phone call later and it was settled. All that remained was to phone TFC Tours and book our passage, which I did the next day.

There were still a couple of weeks until the cruise was due to start, and I was sitting watching television one night when Yvette walked through and asked what I was watching. As it happened, it was the sinking of the Titanic. She mentioned something about tempting fate, but I told her that I was not superstitious and continued to watch the film.

Eventually the week-end of the cruise arrived. We were all awake bright and breezy on the Saturday morning. Neal, Robyn and their daughter Kirsten arrived at our house, as we had decided to all go in one car, and leave Neal’s car at our house. Kirsten and my son Liam were great friends. We also had a three month old baby daughter called Meghann. Neal and Robyn also had a baby daughter, but decided to leave her with Robyn’s mom.

In due course we arrived at the airport, offloaded the women, children and baggage and parked the car, headed back to the terminal and finished the check in procedures.

The time came to board our flight to East London and we duly trooped on board. Not long after we were airborne and winging our way down the coast. It was quite a bumpy flight with lots of turbulence due to some severe storm weather on its way up from Cape Town. However, everyone was in very high spirits and nothing was going to upset us.

Just under an hour later we commenced our descent for East London. Everyone was buckled-up tightly and after a really hairy descent and landing we taxied up to the terminal buildings.

The captain complimented the co-pilot on a very good landing under extremely difficult circumstances. The cross wind was so strong that we were almost forced to divert to an alternate airport.

When we stopped at our designated parking stand, the aircraft steps were parked against the Boeing 737 aircraft and the purser did her best to open the door of the aeroplane, but the wind was so strong that it kept blowing it closed. I was sitting in the second row of business class and jumped up and helped her, and eventually we both managed to get the door open and locked in position.

The next mission was to try and descend the stairs of the aircraft in the howling gale. My wife had baby Meghann in her arms, and I had our hand baggage and young Liam by the hand. As we walked across the tarmac, Liam was hanging on to my hand for dear life and being lifted off the ground and being blown horizontal by the powerful gusts. After quite a struggle we made it into the safety of the arrivals hall and went to collect our checked baggage.

Next we went in search of our SAA colleague who was going to transport all of us down to the harbour. When we located him he gave us the bad news that the harbour had been closed due to the adverse weather conditions. No ships could depart until the weather improved, so he settled us in the business class lounge to wait and hope that there was an improvement in the weather. They made regular enquiries about the weather conditions, but there was no improvement.

Eventually we got the good news that the weather had improved sufficiently for shipping to resume, at the discretion of the ships captains. We grabbed our kit and headed to the exit where a couple of mini busses were waiting to transfer us down to the harbour. It was a very short trip and next thing we were clambering out of the mini bus at the ships side.

The wind was still howling, and there were occasional rain squalls, so we rushed up the ships gang plank and straight into the lounge area.

No sooner had we sat down and started to relax, when one of the ships crew asked us for our boarding passes. We were then advised that we would have to go back down to the offices on the harbour side and check in. We left the women and children on board and Neal and I headed back down the gangplank to the check in office, which was a shipping container that had been converted into an office. There was a queue, which we joined, and after about half an hour, we had exchanged our tickets for boarding passes and were heading back up the gangplank to the shelter of the ships lounge where we were re-united with our families. Drinks were ordered and we started to settle in. There were entertainers dressed up in various animal costumes to entertain the children, and a general air of festivity prevailed.

After enjoying our welcome cocktails, we rounded up the children and headed for our cabins. We were on the Venus Deck as I recall, and soon enough we were in our cabin. Yvette was already feeling seasick so I unpacked our gear and between us we managed to keep the kids occupied.

Liam wanted to go up and explore, so I left Yvette and little Meghann in the cabin and we headed up to the deck. As soon as we exited the closed lounge, we were in a howling gale again. We battled our way up to the front of the ship. By now we were leaving the protection of the harbour and heading out to sea. The waves were enormous and the ship was rolling from side to side. Funnily enough, I did not feel as if we were in any danger, but just that we were encountering some extremely bad weather.

Eventually we had both had enough of the elements and headed back to our cabin. Yvette still felt very seasick and didn’t want to do anything but rest in the cabin. Meggie was sound asleep, so I went up to the lounge for a beer.

There was live entertainment in the form of a band playing sing along songs, and the crowd was enjoying themselves. I joined a group of SAA colleagues from Durban, and we sat chatting and listening to the music. Drinking my beer was not easy with the ship rolling from side to side, and I think I poured as much beer down the front of my shirt as I did down my throat.

When I got back to the cabin, Yvette had somehow arranged for the children’s food to be brought to the cabin, and they had eaten and gone to bed. Yvette did not want to eat supper, so Neal and I decided to eat at the first sitting and went to the dining room. I don’t remember much about the food, but I do recall that the starter was soup and the bowl kept sliding all over the table, making it virtually impossible to eat. There were quite a lot of glasses and crockery broken as the waiters struggled against the ship’s motion with trays of food and drink.

After we had finished our meal we went back to our respective cabins. Yvette was being sick in the toilet, and Meggie had woken up and needed her nappy changed. I was in the middle of putting on her new nappy, when suddenly the lights went out. It was very dark with only one tiny emergency light on in the cabin. It was really strange and quiet, and then I realised that I could not hear the ship’s engines, which had been a constant dull sound in the background.

Shortly afterwards there was a knock on the door and I went to open it. There was a TFC Tours staff member there, and she said we should get our life jackets and go up to the lounge area. I asked her if it was just a drill, as Yvette was sick and Meggie half dressed, and she said that no, it was not a drill. As we had not yet had any kind of lifeboat drill I didn’t have a clue where our life jackets were stored. She showed me where they were, in the bottom of the cupboard and we pulled them out. We started to put them on when I realised that they were all adult size life jackets, and far too big for my son Liam. The lady said that there were children’s life jackets upstairs and asked us to hurry, and not to bring any personal belongings with us.

Yvette wrapped Meggie in a little sleeping bag, and with the baby in her arms, I took Liam by the hand and we made our way along the dimly lit corridor to the stairway and up the stairs to the lounge.

There were people everywhere in life jackets. Many were sitting on the floor as all the seats in the lounge were occupied. Others were just standing around in groups. The band had started playing again and it was quite an unreal scene.

We seemed to wait around for quite a while, just sitting on the floor to see what happened next. Eventually some of the TFC staff approached us and said that all the women and children should follow them and get into life boats.

At that stage it really struck home that something must be seriously wrong with the ship, but everyone was very calm, and there was no panic what so ever. I told the TFC staff that Yvette would not be able to look after both Liam and a three month old baby on her own. They were very understanding and assigned one of their members to accompany them in the lifeboat and look after Liam.

Once the lifeboat was full they started to lower it, but the ship’s motion and the howling gale were hindering operations, and to make matters worse, one of the davits seized. It had to be smashed loose with a pole, and when it released, there was a steel pulley lashing around on the end of a rope in the wind which actually hit an elderly lady on the head and split her scalp open.

I was watching the proceedings from the deck above, and it seemed to take forever for the lifeboat to descend into the angry water, and away from the side of the ship into the pitch black night. I think that Robyn and little Kirsten Shaw were in the same lifeboat as my family.

They were in the second life boat to be launched. The first lifeboat, according to reports was full of ships officers and crew who had just jumped in, and when it was half full had lowered it into the water and taken off. That was one of only two lifeboats with a motor. The idea was that the first powered life boat on either side of the ship be lowered first, then a rope tied to the next boats so that they could be strung along in a line and head into the waves, pulling in a line. But that did not happen.

There were only eight lifeboats in total, of which two were motorised. There were also inflatable dinghies and life rafts. The lifeboats were in very poor condition, and the rowing mechanism of the non-powered boats jammed and the oars in Yvette’s boat actually broke.

They were in the lifeboat for more than ten hours, with no food or water. Apparently there were some emergency rations on the boat, but no one knew where they were.

My personal feeling is that the people in the lifeboats had the most traumatic experience of all. They were smashed around for more than ten hours in gale force winds and twenty metre high waves. They were soaking wet and freezing cold. Yvette had to put her hand inside Meggie’s nylon sleeping bag every so often to feel if she was still alive, and as a result of the trauma she lost her breast milk and wasn’t even able to feed her. And it was absolutely pitch black.

While they were out battling the elements, we were just waiting around to see what would happen next. By this time the ship was listing over at about 25 or 30 degrees and it was getting difficult to walk normally. The ship was stationary and it appeared that we had dropped anchor, as we were not moving forward.

In the distance we could see lights on shore and they turned out to be at the Haven Hotel near Koffee Bay. It was only about two miles to shore, but it may as well have been two hundred miles, as there was no way to reach it. The waves were massive, and being whipped into a fury by the gale force winds. In addition, the waters in those parts are infested with sharks.

The killer storm we were experiencing is known to mariners as a South Westerly Buster. These storms and the giant waves that usually accompany them have struck fear into the hearts of seafarers off our coast for as long as ships have navigated the route around the southern tip of Africa and have claimed 85 vessels and hundreds of lives.

A number of phenomena combine to make South African waters, particularly those off the Wild Coast some of the worlds most dangerous. Research into the giant waves has pointed out some of the main causes.The empty reaches of the southern ocean below 40 degrees south known as  the ‘’ Roaring Forties ‘’ act as a swell factory responsible for creation of the monster waves.

The storm systems of the coastline also contribute, and the south westerly buster occurs in conjunction with a coastal low which hugs the coastline, moving ahead of cold fronts.

The wind shift to a gale force south westerly buster is usually far more dramatic on the Natal and Eastern Cape coasts, than the southern Cape. This is thought to be due to a change in the orientation of the coastline east of Port Elizabeth or a difference in the topographic features.

The strong south westerly winds can be maintained if there is a strong pressure gradient caused by a South Atlantic high pressure system ridging in behind the cold front.

The powerful Aghullas current streams down the coastline from the north east like a gigantic ocean river at an average rate of around eighty million tons of water per second and moving at up to six kilometres per hour.

The relatively broad and shallow continental shelf over which the current runs may exacerbate the steepness and height of waves near the coast. When gale force southerly or south westerly winds and the accompanying huge swells clash with the Aghullas current flowing in the opposite direction in relatively shallow water, conditions are ripe for the formation of ‘’ Rogue Waves’’ and ‘’ Holes ‘’ in the sea that have been noted since the sixteenth century.

Charts of the area give the warning: ‘’ Abnormal waves of up to twenty metres in height, preceded by a deep trough, may be encountered in the area between the edge of the continental shelf and twenty miles to seaward thereof ‘’.

It was one of these waves or holes, which is thought to have claimed the SS Waratah near the Bashee River mouth on July 27 1909, with the loss of all 211 passengers and crew.

Neal and I were worried about our family’s safety, but there was nothing we could do except wait. We decided to try and get back to our cabins and get our few valuable possessions like passports and papers. I was also cold and wanted to fetch my jacket and camera bag.

I had a really nice Canon 35mm SLR camera, but my flash unit had been giving trouble so I had borrowed one from my friend Dennis Cathro. Dennis and I had met while we were both doing our private pilots licenses at the flying school at Virginia in Durban. Dennis had been an aerial photographer in the Air Force and had the same type of camera body as mine, but also a really good flash unit and lots of different lenses and filters all in a special aluminium case. He said that I should take them all along and experiment with the wide angle and zoom lenses, so I wanted to fetch them as they were worth a lot of money.

We set off for the stairway, which would take us below to our cabins on the Venus deck. At the head of the stairs we found our way blocked by one of the Greek ships crew brandishing a fire axe. I was a bit surprised at seeing him there obviously blocking our way, and explained that we needed to get down to our cabins to collect things. He either didn’t understand English very well, or was purposely ignoring what I said, but when I attempted to pass to one side of him, he raised the axe and there was no mistaking his message.

A sound caught my attention, but I couldn’t quite make out what it was. Then I looked over the banister and realised that the sound was water swirling around at the base of the stairs. Knowing that there was no way past the crew member we turned and headed back to where we had come from. What we found out later was that some members of the ships crew were busy looting the passenger cabins, and Mr. Axe Man was obviously a look-out to prevent them from being disturbed, as well as looking out for passenger’s safety.

At some stage afterwards I bumped into my friend Charles, and mentioned that we had been prevented from getting down the stairs to our cabins. Charles told me that there was another way to get to the cabins as he had just been down himself. He told us to walk along the ships side along the deck until we reached a games room with table tennis tables in it, and go through it into a lounge and bar area, and that there was a flight of stairs at the far end of the lounge that led down to the lower decks.

Neal and I followed the directions Charles had furnished and sure enough we were down at our cabins in no time. I collected my papers and camera bag, and put on my leather flying jacket, then put my life jacket over it and went to find Neal.

He had found Robyn’s handbag with her jewellery in it and any other valuables he wanted. I remember he had bought the handbag for Robyn somewhere on his travels as a Boeing 747 flight engineer, and it had some special sentimental value attached to it.

We then retraced our steps and ended up in the lounge bar area. It was completely deserted, and it seemed silly to leave the bar fully stocked when we could use a nice drop of liquor to warm us up on the deck. We each grabbed a couple of bottles of Southern Comfort and Jack Daniels and continued on our way.

When we got back to our spot, we handed out a couple of bottles of the liquor to those around us and they were gratefully accepted. One of the passengers was a lady by the name of Rose Marie who now lives in Ireland and remembers the bottle of Jack Daniels we shared. Rose recalls I vowed that if we survived our ordeal we would be friends for ever.

It was now the early hours of the morning, and time seemed to have stood still. The ship was heeled over at a very steep angle by now and we had to hold onto the railings to keep from slipping down along the deck. At one stage a huge wave smashed against the side of the ship, Neal lost his grip on the railing and slid down the deck and nearly went over the edge into the empty swimming pool.

I needed to use the toilet, so I got up and made my way along the deck and into the lounge area, and down to the toilets. They were in a disgusting state with sewage sloshing along the floor to the motion of the ship. While I was in the toilet there was an elderly man who was trying to get out of the toilets and back up to the deck, but the ship was now heeled over at such an angle that he could just not make it. The floor was carpeted with a smooth short-pile carpet, and there was nothing to grab on to – so it was like a ski slope – impossible for him to get up. I managed to crawl up to the railings on the ships side and picked up some bed sheets lying on the floor. The TFC staff that had brought up blankets from the cabins to give to passengers getting into the lifeboats had dropped them.

I tied a few sheets together, and then tied one end to the ships railing, and abseiled back down to the old chap below. I explained to him that he would have to wrap his arms around my neck so that I could piggyback him, then I crawled with him on my back up to the deck. He then went on his way and I returned to my spot on the deck.

At some stage a couple of the TFC staff approached Neal and I and asked if we would assist in getting passengers into one of the lifeboats. It was the last lifeboat left out of the total eight on board ship, and many of the passengers were elderly. I have no idea why they chose Neal and I, but they gave us some flares and we followed them to the lifeboat. They gave us a very brief run down on how the mechanism for lowering the lifeboat worked, then we both climbed in and started assisting passengers into the boat. It was not an easy task, as the boat was swaying around crazily in the gale, and was also swinging in and out with the motion of the ship being battered by the angry sea.

As soon as the lifeboat was full, we began trying to lower it, but the mechanism was stuck – either rusted solid or jammed, and it would not budge. The TFC staff passed me a fire axe and I managed to smash my side loose, which caused it to drop a few feet – so now we were also lopsided. The passengers then passed the axe along to Neal at the other end of the lifeboat so that he could do the same.

While Neal was busy trying to smash his side loose, the boat was swinging around as if it had a life of its own and was determined to eject its occupants. I looked around and found a long pole with a spike on one end lying on the floor of the lifeboat. I pushed the spiked end against the side of the ship to try and steady us a bit, which worked for a short while until a huge wave smashed up against the side of the ship. We swung out and then back, and when I made contact with the ships side again, the pole bowed and shattered. I lost all the feeling in my hands from the shock generated by the pole snapping, and all my fingernails turned black within a few minutes.

Neal eventually managed to smash his winch mechanism loose and his end dropped level with mine, then we were just hanging there swinging around in the wind. The crew on deck battled with the electric motors for lowering the lifeboat into the water, and after quite a while they gave up. It was decided that everyone would have to get out of the lifeboat, and back on deck. This operation proved far more difficult than it had been getting everyone into the boat, as it had now dropped a couple of feet when the davits were freed, which meant that the deck was now above the top of our heads.

By the time we had assisted all the passengers back up onto the deck, we were both exhausted, and I still had no feeling in my hands. Once again we made our way back to our old spot on the deck, and sat down. We must have dozed off for a while, because the next thing I can recall is that the sky was starting to get lighter. Shortly after one of the passengers pointed to a school of dolphins, which were swimming very close to the ship. They didn’t just swim past but swam near the ship for a long time, and one of the people remarked that as long as the dolphins were around we would not have to worry about sharks.

The sky continued to get brighter, and it was around that time I heard the unmistakeable sound of a Dakota DC3 aircraft and knew that the Air Force was on the way, which was very reassuring. Not long after that we all heard the sound of approaching helicopters. They were Puma’s belonging to the South African Air Force, and I knew that they were going to mount a rescue operation. The helicopters landed near the Haven Hotel and were obviously planning what would happen next.

It was not much later that a helicopter flew out to us and started hovering above the ship. They then lowered Navy seals down on winches to the ships deck. This was quite a tricky operation, not only trying to stabilise the choppers in the gale, but also trying to avoid obstacles like the masts and rigging. Once they were on the deck the seals set about cutting away as many of the obstacles as possible and it was shortly thereafter they began winching passengers up from the deck in a harness, two at a time.

It was at this stage of the operation that the Captain pushed one of the passengers, a woman, aside and got into the harness and was winched aboard the chopper. As soon as the chopper was full it ferried the passengers to the shore, and another chopper took its place and continued in the same fashion. According to a list of passengers compiled ashore, Captain Yannis Avrannas was the seventh person to be dropped ashore. There were numerous other ships crew names listed amongst the first people to have been airlifted ashore.

Initially the helicopters were only airlifting passengers from one end of the ship, but after a while the TFC staff started moving passengers to the other end of the ship so that they could use two helicopters to simultaneously evacuate them. Neal and I were once more asked to assist with the task of moving passengers to the other side of the ship. By this stage the ship was keeled over at a really acute angle, and as always being battered by massive waves and gusting gales. I remember assisting one elderly couple in particular. The husband was a little skinny man of around seventy years of age, and his wife of much the same age, but a very large lady who walked with great difficulty. To move her entailed getting her to grab hold of the ships railing, then standing behind her and wrapping my arms around her like a bear, and also grabbing onto the ships railing. We then edged along sideways in a crab-like fashion along the deck. It was very slow going, and we had to stop frequently so she could catch her breath. Her husband followed us in a similar fashion, and he reminded me of a little sparrow as he fussed about her.

This process went on for quite some time, and we both made numerous trips to and fro, shuttling passengers along the deck. Eventually there were only about fifty of us left to be airlifted off the deck, when one of the TFC staff – I think it may have been Lorraine Betts – told Neal and I that the ship was now sinking fast and there was a strong possibility it would capsize at any moment, so we were going to have to jump over board into the water. We went to the very edge of the ship and prepared for our jump into the furious waters below. We had to take off our shoes, and I remember Neal was told he could not take his wife’s handbag with him and had to leave it on deck. We had our life jackets and the clothes we’d been wearing since it all began. Fortunately I also had my leather flying jacket which proved to be a Godsend once we were in the freezing water, and afterwards as well.

We had to wait for a wave to smash up against the ship’s side, then jump and be pulled back away from the ship. After that we tried to swim away from the ship, although it was pretty pointless as we were entirely at the mercy of the twenty metre waves towering above us. After a while we were pulled onto a rubber dinghy by a navy seal and once Neal and I were on the dinghy we were ferried to a nearby lifeboat that had been launched from the Nedlloyd Mauritius. I recall shivering uncontrollably and my teeth chattering as if they would never stop.

At one stage, while we were still on the rubber dinghy, we motored across and gave a tank of petrol to another seal who had run out of fuel in his dinghy, and was just bobbing around on the water.

When the lifeboat got near to the Nedlloyd Mauritius, the crew realized we would not be able to climb up the ship’s side, as the sea and wind were too strong. We just waited on the lifeboat while the Nedlloyd Mauritius manoeuvred around to a different angle, which afforded us some sort of shelter from the wind and the sea on the protected side.

What came next was really tricky. The lifeboat had a cabin, which extended from the front of the boat about three quarters of the way towards the rear of the boat, the last bit being open. We had to climb up onto the roof of the cabin, wait for the right moment and then jump across to a rope ladder which was suspended down the side of the ship, and which was being blown around all over the place. It was quite a slow process, and it was a while before my turn came to leap across and scramble up to the ships deck.

Once on board, the crew wrapped blankets around us and took us in to their canteen and fed us bowls of steaming hot soup. All the crew were extremely helpful and friendly, and couldn’t do enough to make us feel comfortable. All of a sudden I began to feel nauseous and made a run for the toilets, but didn’t make them in time and threw up all over the place. Feeling rather embarrassed by what I had done, I looked around and found a bucket and a mop and started to clean up my mess. Some of the crew saw what I was doing and immediately took the mop away from me and continued to clean up the mess. They would not hear of me doing any more cleaning so I left them to it and went back and sat down in the dining area. After a while I started to feel a bit better, in fact well enough to want to smoke a cigarette. The problem was that my packet of cigarettes had been reduced to a soggy mess, and were totally un-smokable.

I asked one of the crew for a cigarette, and in no time cartons of duty free Gold Coast cigarettes were being freely dished out to anyone who wanted them. Soon after that, crates of beer were also brought in and we were sitting drinking and smoking quite happily.

There was a TV in the canteen, and we sat and watched the news coverage of events as the sinking progressed, and I recall seeing the last moments as the nose dipped into the water and the Oceanos sank.

I asked one of the crew members, a young Pilipino, where we could go for a shower, and he told Neal and I to follow him. He led us to the ship’s sickbay and showed us a bath we could use. We ran a full steaming hot bath and both jumped in and just sat soaking in hot water up to our necks like two little boys. It was wonderful to feel the cold being leeched out of us, and then being able to wash the salt off and feel clean and warm again.

After we had dried ourselves off the young seaman reappeared with a couple of pairs of clean overalls for us to wear. We got dressed then he took us and showed us our sleeping quarters. I had been allocated the pilots cabin, but when I went in there was already someone sleeping on my bunk, so I dumped my wet clothing on the floor in one corner and headed back to the canteen.

At some stage I recall a woman by the name of Lorraine Betts, who was one of the TFC Tours senior staff members saying that we were on the way to Port Elizabeth. She also said that there would be lots of members of the press there when we arrived and who would want to interview us about the sinking. She said that we should not say anything to them. She also said that it was not true that the captain and crew had deserted the ship, and us passengers, which was ludicrous, as we had all been there in person. My belief is that someone from either TFC Tours or the ships owners had contacted her and told her what propaganda they wanted us to hear.

I eventually made my way back to my sleeping quarters in the pilots cabin.  There was someone asleep on my bunk, so I found a spare mattress, put it on the floor and went to sleep.

I don't recall what time I woke up the next day, but we headed for the canteen which had become our meeting point.  We were fed again and advised that we would soon be entering Port Elizabeth harbour.

Once all the docking procedures had been completed, we walked down the gangplank to where busses were waiting.  There was a large contingent of press reporters and camera crews waiting.  One of the reporters tried to interview me, but I was in no mood to be interrogated and continued on my way to the bus.

We had a police escort, and once all of us were on the bus, they set off with lights flashing and sirens blaring.  We didn't stop at any traffic lights or stop signs anywhere along the route, and soon arrived at the Holiday Inn Hotel.  The whole hotel had been closed off for us, and we were guided to the dining area, and fed again.

There were lots of South African Defence Force personnell, as well as many South African Airways staff there to assist us.  At the first opportunity I gave one of the SAA staff my details and asked them to contact my SAA colleagues at Durban Airport where I worked, to advise them of my whereabouts.

We were then interviewed one at a time by SA Defence Force psychologists.  They were surprised at how calm we were, but warned us to be careful of delayed reactions to our traumatic experience, and to look out for symptoms in our families as well.  We then went to the hotel reception and were given the keys to our hotel rooms.

When I got into my room, the first thing I did was to phone my Dad.  It was Monday morning, and he was at work.  He was so relieved to hear from me that he broke down on the telephone.  At that stage no one knew whether we were dead or alive as communications about the survivors had been very vague.  He told me that Yvette and the children were fine, and were due to arrive in Durban Harbour shortly, and that Yvette's parents were waiting there to collect them.

I then called Neal in his room and we got together.  Shortly afterwards hotel staff brought us toothbrushes and toothpaste and sandals, as we were all barefoot.  The staff advised us that we would be collected later and taken to the airport to be flown home.  We were then able to have a shower and freshen up.

In due course we were put on busses and taken to the airport.  It was strange checking in with absolutely no luggage - not even hand baggage.  I still had a ships flare in my jacket pocket, and knowing it was prohibited on board an aircraft, I asked one of my SAA colleagues by the name of Johan, who worked at the airport, to look after it for me - I wonder if he still has it.  We were advised that our flight was being re-routed via East London to pick up more survivors.

Neal and I were fortunate enough to be seated in Business Class again, thanks to our SAA colleagues.  During the flight, the Captain announced over the PA system that wreckage from the Oceanos could be seen below us.  There was lots of flotsam and plastic deck chairs clearly visible on the surface, and we also saw a life boat washed up on the shore.

We landed at East London, picked up more survivors, and were soon winging our way down to Durban.  It is only a short hop from East London and less than an hour later we were descending for Durban airport.

Inside the terminal building there was a huge welcoming committee consisting of family, friends and colleagues.  It was a very emotional scene, and my wife Yvette and the children, my parents and brothers were there to meet me.  I couldn't wait to get home after a really exhausting experience.

A few days later, it was back to work, and gradually things started to return to normal.

To be continued.......

If you have any questions  or want more information, drop me an email at:  mikesworld2002@hotmail.com


  1. Please sign my Guest Book at the bottom of the page.

  2. Watched the account tonight on Dateline in the US. Amazing what you all went through. Whatever ever happened to the captain? and the crew who left at the beginning??? My husband and I couldn't believe they just up and left. Thank GOD you all survived! Thank God and all the brave people who worked so hard to do what the cowards should have done.

  3. What you lived through and survived is incredible! How old was your Liam at the time? And baby Meghan? I am so glad that you all made it off the ship and survived. Thank you for sharing your story.u

  4. Bea from NJ (@sweeetbea on Twitter)28 February 2011 at 23:39

    I just watched The Dateline Special on the Oceanos. God bless you all for surviving & being able to share your story with us. I have tears from reading your adventure & want to thank you for your heroism in helping your fellow passengers.