The accident that caused a man to survive for 3 days inside a sunken ship | The USA Print

The accident that caused a man to survive for 3 days inside a sunken ship | The USA Print

Harrison Okene does not forget the moment when the ship he was sailing on began to sink.

The Nigerian, then 29 years old, was working as a cook aboard a tugboat, the Jascon 4, which was about 32 kilometers off the coast of Nigeria when it suddenly capsized due to a malfunction.

“I had just gone to the bathroom. “I closed the door and was sitting on the toilet when the ship turned to the left side,” he recalled in a recent interview with the radio show BBC Outlook.

The sinking was so rapid that none of the 13 crew members managed to get on deck before the ship filled with water.

“The next thing I saw was the toilet I was sitting on was suddenly on top of my head,” Harrison said.

“The light went out and I heard everyone screaming, screaming, screaming. I managed to open the door and get out, but I couldn’t find anyone there. The force of the water pushed me towards one of the cabins and I was trapped there“.

What he never imagined in that moment of panic is that this hit of water would also be a stroke of luck. She pushed him towards a Air bubblean oasis of oxygen that would allow him to achieve an unthinkable feat: survive almost 3 days at the bottom of the sea.

A shipwreck that would cost the lives of the entire rest of the Jascon 4 crew on that fateful May 26, 2013.

Reproduction of how the Jascon 4 was, at the bottom of the sea, and where the air bubble was (
Reproduction of how the Jascon 4 was left, at the bottom of the sea, and where the air pocket (“Air pocket”) was that allowed Harrison Okene to stay alive.

inexperienced sailor

Unlike several of his colleagues, Harrison did not have much experience as a sailor.

The cook told Outlook that, in fact, “I had never set foot on a boat” before landing a job aboard a ship in 2010.

Harrison had been the head chef of a hotel and thus managed to support his wife and children.

But as the offshore oil boom grew in his home state of Delta State, he realized he could make a lot more money as a chef aboard one of the many ships used to extract crude oil from the seabed.

Remember that your first experience was not very auspicious.

“Although I liked the water, from the moment I got on the ship I had dizziness and I spent three days crawling on the floorvomiting and cooking at the same time,” he said.

“But after three days it was perfect and since then I have never suffered from seasickness in the ocean.”

After that small lapse he discovered that it was much happier working on a boat, where he only had to serve 12 people and not the hundreds he was used to at the hotel.

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Furthermore, maritime employment had other advantages.

“The longer the trip, the more they pay you and you don’t spend it, you have no way to spend it. Then when you get to land you can count on all that money. So I was enjoying the work,” she stated.

A map of Delta State
Oil drilling in the Atlantic, off the coast where Harrison lives, offers lucrative jobs for locals.

Despite his lack of experience, Harrison I was not afraid of living on the sea.

“I felt very good because I like the atmosphere, it is very calm, it is quiet, there is no noise, the only thing you feel is how the boat is rocking,” he describes.

He had even gotten used to having to tie all his pots and pans with ropes, so they wouldn’t fall over with the tide.

Not even a nightmare he had, in which his ship was sinking, managed to make him nervous.

“I laughed when I woke up, I thought: ‘It wasn’t real,’” he said, clarifying that “in the dream he did not die“.

The sinking of the Jascon 4

In May 2013 he started working on the Jascon 4. Although he did not know the boat, he had sailed before with the rest of the crew.

“We were friends, we were very close,” he says, saying that many “treated me like a mother, sharing their ideas and their sorrows with me. I gave them the little advice I could give them to help them.”

On May 25, the tugboat had been hard at work, stabilizing an oil tanker on a Chevron platform in the middle of storm-tossed seas.

That morning Harrison woke up and went to the kitchen to prepare everything, as always. Until he went to the bathroom and suddenly everything changed.

He remembers feeling the ship sink. “I was falling very quickly. I was in panic. I heard people screaming, crying. It was ten to five in the morning, so some of my classmates were still sleeping. They were screaming for help. You heard the water bubble as it entered the different spaces and then, silence“.

When the ship finally ran aground on the sea floor, about 30 meters from the surface, Harrison was the only one still alive. He was trapped in a small place, with water up to the waist. It was dark and cold.

Image of the moment Harrison Okene was found inside the sunken ship
Harrison Okene spent three days like this, trapped inside the ship. (Photo: DCN GLOBAL)

At that moment he thought that someone would come to rescue him, but two days passed and nothing.

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He managed to find a flashlight tied to a life jacket. Desperate to escape, he swam through a submerged door to the next cabin looking for an exit. But he couldn’t find anything. Then his flashlight died and was left in absolute darkness.

Remember to feel fish eating its wounded skin from the blows during the shipwreck. “He was dressed only in boxers,” he explains.

“I thought about my wife, my mother. I spent the time singing praises,” she recalls.

It was like that for 60 hours. Without food or drink, and aware that the oxygen in his miraculous air bubble was being consumed.


On land, to the families of the crew members They were informed that everyone had diedand the company that owns the Jascon 4, West African Ventures, hired experts to recover the bodies.

The person in charge of carrying out this mission was the Dutch diving company DCN Global.

The company sent three divers to the sunken ship, coordinated by a supervisor who could follow their actions by camera from a ship on the surface.

The divers were taken to the bottom of the sea in a pressurized chamber.

Harrison could hear them as they broke the doors to enter the ship. He started banging on the cabin walls to get his attention.

I was desperate. “There was almost no oxygen in the air bubble.“I was having a hard time breathing.”

The first thing he saw was the reflection of a flashlight. “I went under the water to try to track that flashlight, and when I saw the water bubbling, I knew it was a diver.”

An underwater camera captured the moment when diver Nicolaas van Heerden took Harrison's hand.
An underwater camera captured the moment in which diver Nicolaas van Heerden took Harrison’s hand, after an initial scare. (Photo: DCN GLOBAL)

The man in question, Nicolaas van Heerden, would later tell Outlook that he felt someone grab him “It was the scariest moment of my entire career.although obviously the terror was quickly replaced by adrenaline and excitement at having found someone alive.”

“I just wanted to touch him and get away because I knew he was going to be scared and I didn’t want to hurt me,” says Harrison, who says that he “was also scared,” and that he was so surprised that he had survived that he “wasn’t even “I’m sure it was a human.”

Nicolaas explains that finding him alive was only the beginning of the rescue operation.

“We couldn’t just bring it to the surface. “We had to decompress it and find a safe way to get it out.”

The rescuers brought him diving equipment and explained how to use it. Then they slowly led him through the sunken ship.

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“Everything was full of mud, you couldn’t see anything,” says Harrison, who lived the moment calmly.

When he entered the pressurized chamber and realized that he had been the only survivor, he began to cry.

“I survived, but it is an experience that I wouldn’t wish on anyone“, it states.

After three days at the bottom of the sea, Harrison had to spend another three days in a decompression chamber on the ship, to normalize his nitrogen levels, which under high pressure accumulate in the tissues and can cause a heart attack.

Meanwhile, they notified his family that he had been found alive. “My wife he fainted and they had to take her to the hospital, but she was fine.”

After the third day, they took him by helicopter to the hospital and after checking him up they let him go home, where not only his family was waiting for him, but a lot of people who had heard about the miracle.

Harrison Okene days after his rescue
Harrison became a media celebrity in the days following his rescue. (Photo: REUTERS)

In the following days his incredible survival story He went around the world after the divers who had found him published the video of the incredible rescue on social networks.

Incredibly, although Harrison vowed never to go near the water again, an accident some time later, in which his car went off a bridge and sank into a lake (again he managed to get out and even saved his passenger) made him make a decision. unexpected: it was done professional diver.

“After the first incident I had said that I would never return to the ocean, but I am still there because I know that it is where I should be, it is my environment and I will always be close to it,” he says.

Is my destiny“It’s how God wanted it to be.”

*You can listen to the Outlook program (in English) on which this article was based here.

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