OK, me first

OK – me first…..

In the days before emails, facebook and twitter we used to circulate jokes and funny articles on the fax machine. And although it wasn’t funny – the story of the Captain of the MTS Oceanos was one such story that circulated throughout South Africa. The fact that most of the crew and the Captain left the ship before any passengers was astonishing. So therefore the Captain became known by his nick name “Captain OK – me first”.

But let’s go back a bit. You will remember in my last blog I told you about my first ever cruise on the Odysseus, part of the Epirotiki line. Apparently the idea of these cruises out of Durban to Mozambique and beyond had become quite popular so after our Odysseus cruise in 1989 Epirotiki brought in another ship the Oceanos – holding just over 500 passengers – to do this popular route.

So what happened that day – here is the timeline from wiki –

“Final voyage

On 3 August 1991, Oceanos – initially delayed due to a bomb threat – set out from East LondonSouth Africa and headed for Durban. Captain Yiannis Avranas (born c. 1940) had been an officer for twenty years and a seaman for thirty.[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 the ship’s 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 Oceanos was rolling about from side to side so badly that crockery and cutlery began sliding off the tables and potted plants fell over.


While trying to make up time due to the earlier delay, Oceanos encountered rough seas. 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 was 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 pm, a muffled explosion was heard and Oceanos lost power. The ship started taking on water, rapidly flooding the engine room. By the next morning rescuers found Oceanos adrift just off Coffee Bay, listing badly to its starboard side.[4]

Now it is significant that the ship was adrift just off Coffee Bay, a small town located on what is known as the Wild Coast of South Africa. It was given that name for good reason as it was known as an area of freak storms, heavy seas and many shipwrecks over the years. It also happens to be a fairly isolated part of South Africa being bout 200 kms from the nearest port Durban and very few roads and highways in the area.

Because of the bad weather apparently many of the passengers had decided to get an early night but when they woke up in the morning they found the ship drifting and listing badly. The next entry in the story will blow your mind. The rescue effort apparently had started before dawn with many of the crew leaving the ship at 3 am and the Captain taking one of the first rescue helicopters. This is where he got his nickname “OK me first”. This is a transcript from one of the messages to the Oceanos from one of the rescue ships

–4 August 1991 —
Rescue ship to a person on the bridge of the fast sinking OCEANOS

“Where are you?”
“I don’t really know, somewhere between East London and Durban.”
“Can you give me your actual position?”
“What is your rank?”
“I’m the guitarist”

It’s true! The entertainment staff saved the day and not a life was lost.

Now as this whole drama started in the middle of the night imagine my feelings getting ready for work in Swaziland when I switched on the TV and saw this live footage of the badly listing ship off the Wild Coast. For a minute I thought it was the Odysseus itself that was sinking and having so recently cruised this area we could not believe our eyes. We sat glued to the screen while helicopters from the South African Defence Force were able to shuttle about 250 passengers off the top deck.

The entertainers became South African heroes – the magician, the Entertainment manager, the singers and dancers – they arranged an orderly evacuation and were the last ones to be hitched up by the helicopters. The ship did not disappear quickly and we sat glued to our screens while it slowly filled with water and tipped sideways.

Then as the nose filled with air the stern rose up out of the water. Deck chairs and cushions slid along the deck. It was like watching Titanic. And then slowly and gracefully the Oceanos slipped under the water and disappeared completely.

Fascinated? Watch this short youtube documentary with footage from the rescue.

Wow – so the lesson here?

On your next cruise be nice to the entertainment staff, laugh loudly at the comedian and get a front row seat for the magician’s show. You never know!


By Lesley Keyter

Lesley Keyter is the face of travel in the fast growing city of Calgary. Every week since 1997 she has has featured live on the Morning News Global TV.


  1. Wow! That is crazy. Thank goodness everyone was rescued. And yes, it definitely reminds me of a certain leader right now. Sad.


  2. Captain Schettino of Costa Concordia which he ran aground in 2012 must have gone to the same school as he left behind about 300 passengers. So much for a captain going down with his ship.


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