Oceanos - History

Five hundred and seventy one passengers were enjoying their holiday cruise aboard the MTS Oceanos, on the 3 rd of August 1991, when at around 9:30pm a loud bang was heard and she came to a standstill. Water was beginning to rise in the ship’s generator room and then into the waste disposal tank. The crew and Captain Yiannis Avranas then sprang into action and fled the ailing ship, leaving all the passengers on board adrift in 10m swells and 40-knot winds. The ship was sinking just off Coffee Bay on our Wild Coast of South Africa. The South African Navy and Air Force responded to the SOS, and what followed was one of the greatest sea rescues in history. All the passengers on board were brought to safety. Thirteen Puma Helicopters and numerous vessels that where in the area assisted in the rescue.

At 3:30pm on the 4 th of August 1991, the once gracious MTS Oceanos, came to rest in 95 meters of water 9.5kms from Hole in the Wall. Due to the success of the rescue team, nobody lost their lives.

Oceanos Trip Pictures

Trip Report

Not many people have successfully dived the Oceanos, until Barry Coleman’s expedition in 2002. His team, which included Brett Hawton and Paul Heinerth, proved that with the correct equipment and experience, it is possible to dive on the Onceanos. It’s due of the extreme Agulhas current and lack of infrastructure in that part of the world that makes this wreck so difficult to dive. So how do you dive it? (Because we wanted to dive on it.) Firstly, plan your expedition when the current is said to be at its weakest. Secondly, take everything that you need with you.

Although we had spoken about it many times in the past 2 years, it was only in January this year that we started firming up our plans for the trip. So many questions had to be answered, and so much had to be organized. As it is with any trip, it gets to a point where you either have it all together, or not. Regardless, it was time to go.

The moment the team arrived at the Hole in the Wall Hotel, we started preparing the two boats that we had, to go and locate the wreck. As we had assembled a list of GPS co-ordinates, this in itself became a task that required hours of patience and tolerance. Expectations were high, so it was disappointing that we didn’t find the wreck on the first day. We persevered and were on the ocean at first light the next day. We had narrowed down the list of co-ordinates, so it was just a matter of time. My heart skipped a beat when only 30 minutes after leaving the beach, I watched as the number on the depth sounder suddenly jump from 95m to 76m. Just to be sure, we went over the mark again. This time we went up over the stern of the ship and along the top of it, until we saw it drop again to 95m. As fast as the boats could go, we got back to the hotel and started getting our rebreathers together. We planned to do a fly over the wreck at 60m, to see her condition, and what possible hazards were awaiting us. There was a relatively strong surface current, but at 60m the water was barely moving. This was a problem, as we had planned to drop up current and drift in with it. Now we had to swim on to the wreck. Due to the unexpected swim we didn’t have the time to complete our objective, but at least we had splashed in.

The following day we woke before sunrise to check the weather conditions. It was all systems go. You could feel the excitement cutting through the morning sea mist. Did I mention that the launch was very exciting? Well the surf certainly did prove a bit of a challenge, especially when you have two boats carrying five divers with rebreathers – each with three bailout tanks, and several tanks of emergency oxygen. The surf launch is just as fun as the dive. The first team of two divers, Dusan Stojakovic and Cronje Grove , jumped in. It was a long wait for them to get back to the surface. Although the sea had become quite choppy, seeing their faces after the dive made the next team eager to get in. Dave Kitchen , Deon Loubser and myself descended down to the wreck, again surprised that there was zero current, which meant another swim. With 50m plus viz, swimming up to the Oceanos wasn’t much of an issue. Watching this enormous ship come into view, is something I’ll never forget.

The team stuck together as we popped our heads over the side and looked down at the sand some 20m below us, debris scattered all over the ocean floor. The wreck is lying on her starboard side so it was almost like doing a wall dive in the Red Sea. We stared in awe at the massive decks and thick ropes. There was so much to see. It was time up, and no matter how much you want to stay down there, you have to stick to your plan. I couldn’t wait to download the video and photos that we had taken.

The wreck has so many rooms and halls that you can’t help but think back to when it was full of passengers, gambling in the casino or enjoying a cocktail on the pool deck. Needless to say, that night everyone at dinner was discussing the wreck, the size, the condition, and the fact that we were lucky enough to have no current and visibility, so good you could almost see it end to end. Could the Oceanos be South Africa’s best wreck dive? I think I’m going again next year, just to make sure. Thanks to our skippers Paul and Mark. Paul’s wife Wendy and Amanda who sat on the beach with phones and radios in hand, ready to activate the emergency plan if needed.

A special thanks to DAN S.A. for their support during the expedition.
Sponsors: Calypso Dive & Adventures Johannesburg, OMS Dive gear and TDI SDI Southern Africa.
Dive Team: Dave Kitchen , PJ Prinsloo, Dusan Stojakovic , Deon Loubser and Cronje Grove.
Words and pictures: PJ Prinsloo