MTS Oceanos

Coordinates: 32°07′15″S 29°07′13″E / 32.12083°S 29.12028°E / -32.12083; 29.12028 (Oceanos wreck)
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

32°07′15″S 29°07′13″E / 32.12083°S 29.12028°E / -32.12083; 29.12028 (Oceanos wreck)

Oceanos in June 1986
NamesakeJean Laborde (as Jean Laborde)
OwnerEpirotiki Lines
OperatorEpirotiki Lines
Port of registryPiraeus, Greece
BuilderForges et Chantiers de la Gironde
Yard numberYS267
Laid down6 March 1951
Launched12 July 1952
CompletedJune 1953
In service1953-1991
Out of service4 August 1991
IdentificationIMO number5170991
FateSunk due to uncontrolled flooding on 4 August 1991 off the coast of South Africa
General characteristics
TypeCruise ship
Tonnage14,000 GT
Length153 m (502 ft)
Beam20 m (66 ft)
Draft7 m (23 ft)
  • 18.5 knots (maximum)
  • 16 knots (cruise)
Capacity550 passengers

MTS Oceanos was a French-built and Greek-owned cruise ship that sank in 1991 when she suffered uncontrolled flooding. Her captain, Yiannis Avranas, and some of the crew were convicted of negligence for fleeing the ship without helping the passengers, who were subsequently rescued thanks to the efforts of the ship's entertainers, who made a mayday transmission, launched lifeboats, and helped South African Marines land on the ship from naval helicopters. All 571 passengers and crew survived.

Epirotiki Lines had lost two other ships within the three years preceding the sinking: the company's flagship Pegasus only two months before, and MV Jupiter, three years before.[1]


Oceanos was launched in July 1952 by Forges et Chantiers de la Gironde in Bordeaux, France as Jean Laborde, the last of four sister ships built for Messageries Maritimes. The ships were used on the MarseillesMadagascarMauritius service. Jean Laborde went through many different owners and name changes (Jean Laborde, Mykinai, Ancona, Eastern Princess) in the succeeding decades. In 1976, she was acquired by Epirotiki Lines of Greece and registered under the name of Oceanos.[2]

Oceanos was briefly featured in the 1985 film Sky High and with another Epirotiki ship, Apollon XI, 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

Under charter by TFC Tours,[1] Oceanos – initially delayed by a bomb threat – set out from East London, South Africa on 3 August 1991, and headed for Durban. Captain Yiannis Avranas (born c. 1940) had been an officer for twenty years and a seaman for thirty.[3][4] Oceanos headed into 40-knot winds and 9 m (30 ft) swells.[2] Usually, there would have been a "sail-away" party on deck. However, rough seas caused the party to be held inside in the Four Seasons lounge;[5] most passengers chose to stay in their cabins.[citation needed]

While trying to make up lost time, Oceanos encountered rough seas. 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.[5]


Earlier repairs to the waste disposal system had not been completed, which meant that a vital ventilation pipe which ran through the watertight aft bulkhead and the non-return valves were not replaced. It is believed that after a series of freak waves slammed against the ship, the pipe's shell plating burst open and began filling the compartment with seawater. At about 9:30 p.m., a muffled explosion was heard and Oceanos lost power. The ship started taking on water, rapidly flooding the engine room.[citation needed]

Once the engines stopped, the ship began to roll so badly that in the lounge, which is where the passengers had gathered, crockery and cutlery began sliding off the tables and potted plants fell over.[5]

No alarm or announcement had been given that the ship was in trouble; with other entertainers working on the cruise, Moss Hills, a musician from Zimbabwe and former member of Four Jacks and a Jill who had been performing with his wife Tracy in the lounge, explored below decks, discovered that Oceanos appeared to be sinking, and were informed by the cruise director, Lorraine Betts, that the captain had given the order to abandon ship and some crew had already left in a lifeboat. They began launching the remaining lifeboats, with up to 90 people in each, but were unable to start their engines.[6] When the ship's worsening list to starboard made it unsafe to continue, Hills and several passengers went to the bridge to look for the crew, but found it unmanned.[5] They used the radio phone to broadcast a mayday distress call until Moss received a response.[7]

By the next morning rescuers found Oceanos adrift just off Coffee Bay, on the Wild Coast.

Rescue efforts[edit]

Two small ships in the vicinity were first on the scene, and provided the ship's coordinates to the South African authorities. Rescue helicopters began arriving three hours later, and winched passengers and remaining crew to safety, with Hills continuing in charge of the orderly evacuation.[5][6] Thirteen of the sixteen helicopters were South African Air Force Pumas, nine of which hoisted 225 passengers off the deck.[8] They were assisted by the lifeboats of the Dutch cargo ship Nedlloyd Mauritius, which had responded to the distress call.[citation needed] An inflatable had to be launched to rescue some passengers who panicked and jumped into the water.[5]

Oceanos sank bow first approximately 45 minutes after the last person was airlifted from the deck.[5] The final minutes of her sinking were captured on video and broadcast by ABC News.[9] All 581 people on board were saved.[3] Entertainment manager Robin Boltman was credited with gathering the passengers in the lounge and playing music to calm them.[10][11] Among the entertainers onboard was the South African cabaret performer, Alvon Collison,[12][13] who later reported that he had begun singing an impromptu repertoire as the ship was sinking, in an effort to keep the passengers' spirits up. In his characteristic style, he managed to weave a comical moment into his narrative of the tumultuous events, telling reporters that he had started singing "Bye Bye Miss American Pie", when he suddenly realised that the next line was going to be "This'll be the day that I die" and quickly switched to another song.[14][15]

Hills later said that searching for Captain Avranas, he had discovered him smoking on the fantail and he said "I think he was in deep, deep shock."[5] Hills reportedly rescued Avranas' dog and released his canary.[16] A South African Navy Diver testified that the captain had insisted on being taken ashore by the first helicopter.[4] Boltman told a newspaper: "Later in the morning, Captain Avarnasi (sic) even contacted me from shore to ask how things were going."[10]


Captain Avranas received extensive media coverage as an example of unprofessional behaviour whilst in command.[16][11][17][18] He stated that he left the ship first to arrange for a rescue effort, and then supervised the rescue from a helicopter because "the batteries on the crew's walkie-talkies had died, meaning that he had no communications with his crew or with other rescue craft".[3] He was quoted soon after the sinking 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."[16][19] In 1992, he and five other officers were convicted of negligence by a Greek board of inquiry for fleeing the ship without helping the passengers.[20][21]

Dateline NBC aired a documentary of the 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). 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.[citation needed] The rescue featured in episode 4 of Shockwave, first aired 21 December 2007.[7] The NPR radio show and podcast Snap Judgment featured an account of the sinking by Moss Hills.[22] The show Extreme Weather: The Survivors featured a segment on the sinking. In 2022, Hills – who later became a cruise director – was interviewed by Jane Garvey for BBC Radio 4's series Life Changing.[5][23][24]


The Oceanos wreck lies at a depth of between 92 m (302 ft) and 97 m (318 ft), about 5 km (2.7 nmi; 3.1 mi) offshore.[2] Divers have visited her, but strong currents make the dive difficult.[2] Photographs taken in 2002 show that the bridge section has collapsed.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Wren, Christopher S. (7 August 1991). "Owner of Lost Greek Cruise Ship Has History of Maritime Mishaps". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 13 August 2009.
  2. ^ a b c d Van Rensburg, Philip G. (5 March 2004). "Diving the Oceanos – Part I". DeeperBlue. Archived from the original on 7 October 2011. Retrieved 6 April 2022.
  3. ^ a b c James, Barry (8 August 1991). "A Captain's Tale: 'The Rescue Was Perfect – Everybody Is Safe'". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 8 November 2009.
  4. ^ a b "Oceanos Captain Insisted On Early Rescue, Diver Says". Deseret News. 7 August 1991. Archived from the original on 18 August 2016.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i McDermott, Sarah (6 April 2022). "The guitarist who saved hundreds of people on a sinking cruise liner". BBC News. Archived from the original on 6 April 2022. Retrieved 6 April 2022.
  6. ^ a b "The Sinking of the Cruiseship Oceanos". Snap Judgment. Archived from the original on 22 December 2017. Retrieved 6 April 2022.
  7. ^ a b "Shockwave: Episode Info". MSN. Archived from the original on 24 December 2013. Retrieved 10 May 2013.
  8. ^ Dubois, Paul. "Puma SA 330 in SAAF Service". Archived from the original on 20 February 2020. Retrieved 10 May 2013.
  9. ^ "Oceanos Sinks". ABC News VideoSource. 1 December 2011. Archived from the original on 22 September 2013. Retrieved 6 April 2022 – via YouTube.
  10. ^ a b "Hero plays music to calm terrified passengers". The Star. 5 August 1991. Archived from the original on 14 July 2015 – via All at Sea blog.
  11. ^ a b Eddings, Jerelyn; Gormley, John H. Jr. (6 August 1991). "South Africa probes cause of luxury liner's sinking". The Baltimore Sun. Archived from the original on 14 July 2015.
  12. ^ Adams, Nathan (23 January 2021). "Alvon Collison sings no more". Independent Online. IOL. Retrieved 17 April 2022.
  13. ^ Hyman, Aron (23 January 2021). "Theatre legend Alvon Collison dies". The Sowetan. Retrieved 17 April 2022.
  14. ^ "The inimitable Alvon Collison, the wind beneath our wings". 26 January 2021.
  15. ^ Bode, Peter. "Alvon Collison Survives the Oceanos". Theatre Lives. Theatre Lives. Retrieved 17 April 2022.
  16. ^ a b c Chua-Eoan, Howard G. (19 August 1991). "Disasters: Going, Going . . ". Time. Archived from the original on 31 January 2009.
  17. ^ Allen, Craig (17 January 2012). "The Captain's Duty on a Sinking Ship". Professional Mariner. Archived from the original on 14 February 2020. Retrieved 6 April 2022.
  18. ^ "Must a captain be the last one off a sinking ship?". BBC News. 18 January 2012. Archived from the original on 24 March 2022. Retrieved 6 April 2022.
  19. ^ "Career Overboard?". The New York Times. 11 August 1991. Archived from the original on 3 May 2009.
  20. ^ Ritter, Karl (19 January 2012). "Costa Concordia Tragedy: Capt. Francesco Schettino Sparks Outrage". Huffington Post. Archived from the original on 12 February 2012.
  21. ^ Uys, Ian S. (1994). Survivors of Africa's Oceans. Germiston: Fortress. p. 160. ISBN 9780958317351. Archived from the original on 6 April 2022. Retrieved 6 April 2022.
  22. ^ "Down With The Ship Archived 11 December 2019 at the Wayback Machine" Snap Judgment Podcast #726
  23. ^ "Life Changing: Mayday". BBC. Archived from the original on 6 April 2022. Retrieved 6 April 2022.
  24. ^ "The guitarist who saved hundreds of people on a sinking cruise liner". BBC News. 5 April 2022.
  25. ^ Van Rensburg, Philip G. (5 March 2004). "Diving the Oceanos". DeeperBlue. Archived from the original on 4 February 2012. Retrieved 6 April 2022.

Further reading[edit]

  • Avrana, Davina (1994). The Oceanos Tragedy. Pittsburgh: Dorrance.
  • Pike, Andrew (2021) [2019]. Mayday Off the Wild Coast: The Epic Story of the Oceanos Rescue. Guilford, Connecticut: Sheridan House. ISBN 9781493055661.

External links[edit]