MTS Oceanos

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"Oceanos" - Piraeus, 1986.jpg
Name: Oceanos
Namesake: Jean Laborde
Owner: Epirotiki Lines
Operator: Epirotiki Lines
Port of registry: Piraeus, Greece
Launched: 12 July 1952
Completed: June 1953
Out of service: 4 August 1991
Identification:IMO number5170991
Fate: Sunk
Status: Wreck lies near Coffee Bay, Eastern Cape, South Africa
General characteristics
Tonnage: 14,000 GT
Length: 153 m (502 ft)
Beam: 20 m (66 ft)
Draft: 7 m (23 ft)
Decks: 6–9
  • 18.5 knots (maximum)
  • 16 knots (cruise)
Capacity: 550 passengers
Crew: 250

MTS Oceanos was a French-built and Greek-owned cruise ship that sank in 1991 due to uncontrolled flooding. Her captain and some of the crew were convicted of negligence for fleeing the ship without helping the passengers.


She was launched in July 1952 by Forges et Chantiers de la Gironde in Bordeaux as the Jean Laborde, the last of four sister ships built for Messageries Maritimes. The ships were used on the MarseillesMadagascarMauritius service. The Jean Laborde went through many different owners and name changes (Jean Laborde, Mykinai, Ancona, Eastern Princess). In 1976, she was acquired by Epirotiki Lines of Greece and registered under the name of Oceanos.[1]

The Oceanos was featured in the 1986 film Hardbodies 2.

Final voyage[edit]

Sinking of the Oceanos
MTS Oceanos is located in Eastern Cape
Wreck of the Oceanos
Wreck of the Oceanos
East London
East London
Eastern Cape, South Africa

On 3 August 1991, the Oceanos set out from East London, South Africa and headed for Durban. Captain Yiannis Avranas (born ca. 1940) had been an officer for 20 years and a seaman for 30.[2][3] Oceanos headed into 40-knot winds and 9 m (30 ft) swells.[1] Usually, there would have been a "sail-away" party on deck with musicians and British entertainers Moss and Tracy Hills. However, due to the rough seas, this was held inside in the Four Seasons lounge; most passengers chose to stay in their cabins.

The storm worsened as the evening progressed and when the first sitting of dinner was served, the waiters could hardly carry the trays of food without dropping something. Eventually the ship was rolling about from side to side so badly that crockery and cutlery began sliding off the tables and potted plants were falling over.


While trying to make up time due to a delayed start because of a bomb threat, the ship encountered rough seas. Earlier repairs to the waste disposal system had not been completed which meant that a vital ventilation pipe which runs through the watertight aft bulkhead and the non-return valves were not replaced. Passengers reported that about 09.30 pm, a muffled explosion was heard and the ship lost power. The Oceanos started taking in water rapidly flooding the engine room and cutting power. By the next morning rescuers found the Oceanos listing badly to one side and adrift just off Coffee Bay.[4]

Rescue efforts[edit]

As no alarm or announcement was given that the ship was in trouble, several passengers went to the bridge to look for the captain but found it unmanned. Entertainer Moss Hills then used the radio phone to broadcast a mayday until a ship answered.[5] Of the 16 rescue helicopters, 13 were South African Air Force Pumas, nine of which hoisted 225 passengers off the deck.[6]

All 571 people on board were saved. Moss Hills organized the orderly evacuation of passengers[7] by the helicopters and is generally acknowledged as the leading hero of the event. Hills and fellow entertainer Julian Butler[8] directed the efforts of the entertainment staff, which included Tracy Hills (Moss Hills' wife) and Robin Boltman,[9] to assist the passengers. According to Boltman, "later in the morning, Captain Avarnasi (sic) even contacted me from shore to ask how things were going."[10] Butler, Moss Hills and Tracy Hills were among the last five to be rescued.[11][not in citation given]

After many officers and crew abandoned ship, women and children were given priority when loading the lifeboats by cruise director Lorraine Betts. Later, as the ship developed a severe starboard list that rendered the remaining lifeboats useless, the remaining passengers had to be airlifted onto South African Air Force helicopters by means of a safety harness. Betts again insisted that women and children be rescued first.

Final moments[edit]

The following day at approximately 15:30 UTC+2, the Oceanos rolled over onto her side and sank by the bow at 32°07′15″S 29°07′13″E / 32.12093°S 29.12029°E / -32.12093; 29.12029 (Oceanos wreck)Coordinates: 32°07′15″S 29°07′13″E / 32.12093°S 29.12029°E / -32.12093; 29.12029 (Oceanos wreck). The last 15 minutes of her sinking was captured on video and broadcast by ABC News.[12]


Captain Avranas and many crew members were criticized for leaving hundreds of passengers behind with no one other than the ship's onboard entertainers to help them evacuate. Avranas received extensive media coverage as an example of unprofessional behaviour whilst in command.[10][13][14][15] Avranas tried to defend his actions by claiming that he left the ship first to arrange for a rescue effort, and then supervised the rescue from a helicopter. He justified his actions saying the "ship was in darkness and the batteries on the crew's walkie-talkies had died, meaning that he had no communications with his crew or with other rescue craft". Avranas was quoted as saying "When I order abandon the ship, it doesn't matter what time I leave. Abandon is for everybody. If some people like to stay, they can stay." The captain and some of the crew were convicted of negligence for fleeing the ship without helping the passengers.[16]

A. Klaudatos, head of Epirotiki Lines, was quoted as saying: "Of course the crew members assigned to the boats have to enter first in order to assist the embarkation of the passengers", "as regards the captain abandoning the vessel, this is untrue and he has maintained his position throughout in assisting the rescue in the most effective way"[10] Epirotiki Lines had lost two other ships within the three years preceding the sinking:[17] the company's flagship Pegasus only two months before, and the MV Jupiter, three years before.

A Greek board of inquiry found Avranas and four officers negligent in their handling of the disaster.[18]

Dateline NBC aired a documentary of this incident on 23 May 2010. The sinking is the subject of a song called "Oceanos" by Celtic rock band Coast. It was also discussed in an episode of Nova on 18 April 2012 entitled "Why Ships Sink", which focused mainly on the Costa Concordia accident (whose commanding officer also fled while passengers were still aboard) and how it related to the Titanic. Moss Hills was interviewed in the special, and related that some years later he had been on board when the MS Achille Lauro of Star Lauro sank. The rescue featured in episode 4 of Shockwave, first aired 21 December 2007.[5] The NPR radio show and podcast Snap Judgment featured a first person account of the sinking as told by Moss Hills.[19] The show Extreme Weather: The Survivors featured a segment on the sinking.


The Oceanos wreck lies at a depth of between 92 m (302 ft) and 97 m (318 ft), about 5 km (3.1 mi) offshore.[1] Divers have visited it, but currents are strong so diving is difficult.[1] Photographs taken in 2002 show that the bridge section has collapsed.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Van Rensburg, Philip G. (5 March 2004). "Diving the Oceanos – Part I". DeeperBlue.
  2. ^ Barry James, A Captain's Tale: 'The Rescue Was Perfect - Everybody Is Safe', International Herald Tribune, 8 August 1991
  4. ^ Chua-Eoan, Howard (19 August 1991). "Disasters: Going, Going..." Time Magazine. (subscription required)
  5. ^ a b "Shockwave: Episode Info". MSN. Retrieved 10 May 2013.[not in citation given]
  6. ^ Dubois, Paul. "Puma SA 330 in SAAF Service". Retrieved 10 May 2013.
  7. ^ "The Sinking Of The Cruiseship Oceanos".
  8. ^ "Cruise ship sinking". YouTube. 6 July 2006.
  9. ^ World News Tonight (on YouTube). ABC News. 5 August 1991.
  10. ^ a b c The Star, "Crew abandoned us", 5 August 1991
  11. ^ Hills, Moss; Hills, Tracy. "Oceanos Cruise Ship Sinking". Archived from the original on 4 January 2013. Retrieved 10 May 2013.
  12. ^ "Oceanos Sinks". YouTube. 1 December 2011.
  13. ^ Jerelyn Eddings, South Africa probes cause of luxury liner's sinking, Baltimore Sun, 6 August 1991
  14. ^ Craig Allen, The Captain's Duty on a Sinking Ship, Professional Mariner, 17 January 2012
  15. ^ BBC, Must a captain be the last one off a sinking ship?, 18 January 2012
  16. ^ "Career Overboard?". The New York Times. 11 August 1991.
  17. ^ Wren, Christopher S. (7 August 1991). "Owner of Lost Greek Cruise Ship Has History of Maritime Mishaps". The New York Times.
  18. ^ Ritter, Karl (19 January 2012). "Costa Concordia Tragedy: Capt. Francesco Schettino Sparks Outrage". Huffington Post. Archived from the original on 12 February 2012.
  19. ^ "Down With The Ship" Snap Judgment Podcast #726
  20. ^ Van Rensburg, Philip G. (2 April 2004). "Diving the Oceanos – Part II". DeeperBlue.

External links[edit]