News / Africa

Nigerian Cook Survives Shipwreck in Undersea Air Bubble

Warri, Nigeria
Warri, Nigeria
TEXT SIZE - +
Reuters
— After two days trapped in freezing cold water and breathing from an air bubble in an upturned tugboat under the ocean, Harrison Okene was sure he was going to die. Then a torch light pierced the darkness.
 
Ship's cook Okene, 29, was on board the Jascon-4 tugboat when it capsized on May 26 due to heavy Atlantic ocean swells around 30 km (20 miles) off the coast of Nigeria, while stabilizing an oil tanker filling up at a Chevron platform.
 
Of the 12 people on board, divers recovered 10 dead bodies while a remaining crew member has not been found.
 
Somehow Okene survived, breathing inside a four foot high bubble of air as it shrunk in the waters slowly rising from the ceiling of the tiny toilet and adjoining bedroom where he sought refuge, until two South African divers eventually rescued him.
 
“I was there in the water in total darkness just thinking it's the end. I kept thinking the water was going to fill up the room but it did not,” Okene said, parts of his skin peeling away after days soaking in the salt water.
 
“I was so hungry but mostly so, so thirsty. The salt water took the skin off my tongue,” he said. Seawater got into his mouth but he had nothing to eat or drink throughout his ordeal.
 
At 4:50 a.m. on May 26, Okene said he was in the toilet when he realized the tugboat was beginning to turn over. As water rushed in and the Jascon-4 flipped, he forced open the metal door.
 
“As I was coming out of the toilet it was pitch black so we were trying to link our way out to the water tidal [exit hatch],” Okene told Reuters in his home town of Warri, a city in Nigeria's oil-producing Niger Delta.
 
“Three guys were in front of me and suddenly water rushed in full force. I saw the first one, the second one, the third one just washed away. I knew these guys were dead,” he said.
 
What he didn't know was that he would spend the next two and a half days trapped under the sea praying he would be found.
 
Turning away from his only exit, Okene was swept along a narrow passageway by surging water into another toilet, this time adjoining a ship's officers cabin, as the overturned boat crashed onto the ocean floor. To his amazement he was still breathing.
 
Fish feasted on the dead
 
Okene, wearing only his underpants, survived around a day in the four foot square toilet, holding onto the overturned washbasin to keep his head out of the water.
 
He built up the courage to open the door and swim into the officer's bedroom and began pulling off the wall paneling to use as a tiny raft to lift himself out of the freezing water.
 
He sensed he was not alone in the darkness.
 
“I was very, very cold and it was black. I couldn't see anything,” says Okene, staring into the middle distance.
 
“But I could perceive the dead bodies of my crew were nearby," he said. "I could smell them. The fish came in and began eating the bodies. I could hear the sound. It was horror.”
 
What Okene didn't know was a team of divers sent by Chevron and the ship's owners, West African Ventures, were searching for crew members, assumed by now to be dead.
 
Then in the afternoon of May 28, Okene heard them.
 
“I heard a sound of a hammer hitting the vessel. Boom, boom, boom. I swam down and found a water dispenser. I pulled the water filter and I hammered the side of the vessel hoping someone would hear me. Then the diver must have heard a sound.”
 
Divers broke into the ship and Okene saw light from a head torch of someone swimming along the passageway past the room.
 
“I went into the water and tapped him. I was waving my hands and he was shocked,” Okene said, his relief still visible.
 
He thought he was at the bottom of the sea, although the company said it was 30 meters below.
 
The diving team fitted Okene with an oxygen mask, diver's suit and helmet and he reached the surface at 19:32, more than 60 hours after the ship sank, he said.
 
Okene said he spent another 60 hours in a decompression chamber where his body pressure was returned to normal. Had he just been exposed immediately to the outside air he would have died.
 
The cook describes his extraordinary survival story as a “miracle” but the memories of his time in the watery darkness still haunt him and he is not sure he will return to the sea.
 
“When I am at home sometimes it feels like the bed I am sleeping in is sinking. I think I'm still in the sea again. I jump up and I scream,” Okene said, shaking his head.
 
“I don't know what stopped the water from filling that room. I was calling on God. He did it. It was a miracle.”

You May Like

Algerians Vote in Presidential Election

There were few media reports of protests and clashes around the country, but so far no significant violence More

Sharks More Evolved than Previously Thought

The discovery could “profoundly affect our understanding of evolutionary history” More

Pakistan Military Asked to Protect Polio Workers

Request comes as authorities say a Taliban ban on vaccinations in 2012 and deadly attacks on anti-polio teams have prevented thousands of children from getting inoculated More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid