News / Africa

    Nigerian Cook Survives Shipwreck in Undersea Air Bubble

    Warri, Nigeria
    Warri, Nigeria
    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

    Native Americans Ask: What About Our Water Supply?

    They say they have been facing a dangerous water contaminant for decades - uranium – but the problem has received far less attention than water contamination by lead in Flint, Michigan

    Pakistan's President Urges Nation Not to Celebrate Valentine's Day

    Mamnoon Hussain criticizes Valentine's Day, which falls on Sunday this year, as a Western import that threatens to undermine the Islamic values of Pakistan

    Mother of IS Supporter: Son Was Peaceful, 'Role Model'

    Somali-American Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.