MTS Oceanos was a French-built and Greek owned cruise ship. Launched in July 1959 by Forges Chantiers de la Gironde in Bordeaux as the Jean Laborde, it was the last of four sister ships built for Messageries Maritimes. The ships were used on the Marseilles - Madagascar - Mauritius service. The Jean Laborde underwent several name changes, including Mykinai, Ancona, and Eastern Princess. Finally, in 1976 it was registered in Piraeus, Greece under the name of Oceanos.
After a sucessful 1988 cruise season in South Africa, the Oceanos received an eight-month charter from TFC Tours of Johannesburg. The Oceanos was in a state of neglect, with loose hull plates, return valves stripped for repair parts after a recent trip, and a hole in the ''watertight'' bulkhead between the generator and the sewage tank.
On 3 August 1991, the Oceanos set out from East London, South Africa to Durban. It headed into 40 knot winds and 30 foot swells.
At approximately 21:30 UTC, while off the Wild Coast of the Transkei, a muffled explosion was heard and the Oceanos lost power following a leak in the engine room's sea chest, a scoop-like device which brings in system cooling water. The ship's engineer reported to Captain Yiannis Avranas that water was entering the hull and flooding the generator room. The generators were shut down because the rising water would have shorted them The supply of power to auxiliary equipment which ran the engines had been severed, so the ship was left floating adrift.
The water rose steadily, flowing through the 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.You can see a simulation of what probably occurred by viewing the video below.
Realizing 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 Captain Avranas, 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 airlift the remainder of the passengers and crew to the nearby settlements of The Haven and Hole in the Wall, South of Coffee Bay. Of the 16 rescue helicopters, 13 were SAAF Pumas, nine of which were responsible for hoisting and evacuating 225 passengers off the deck of the sinking ship.
All 571 people on board were saved, following one of the world's most dramatic and sucessful rescue operations of its kind. Entertainers Julian Butler and Moss Hills recorded their efforts to assist passengers with a home video recorder.
The following day at approximately 15:30 UTC the Oceanos rolled over onto her side and her stern rose upright and sank. The bow struck the sand below the surface, whilst most of her stern remained aloft a few minutes before also slipping below, coming to rest on her starboard side almost perpindicular to the coastline, with her bow facing seaward.
Captain Yiannis Avranas was accused by the passengers of leaving hundreds behind with no one other than the ships onboard entertainers to help them evacuate. Avranas claimed that he left the ship first to arrange for a rescue effort, and then supervised the rescue effort from a helicopter. Avranas stated, ''When I give the order to abandon ship, it doesn't matter what time I leave. Abandon is for everybody. If some people want to stay, they can stay.''
The year after the sinking, Avranas and several members of his senior crew were found guilty of negligence by the Greek Maritime Board.
Although perhaps only a coincidence, Epirotiki Lines who owned the Oceanos, had within the three years preceding the sinking, lost two other ships; the company's flagship Pegasus only two months before, and the MTS Jupiter, three years before. The Oceanos had the highest possible safety rating at Lloyds Register of Shipping.