SA Ship Disasters


(1)     mv Oceanos (1991)

Ship Name: Oceanos       Port of registry:    Piraeus, Greece

Owner: Epirotiki Lines     Operator: Epirotiki Lines

Launched: 12 July 1952   Out of service: 4 August 1991

Tonnage: 14,000 GT         Length: 153 m (502 ft)

Speed: 18.5 knots (max.)  16 knots (cruise)

Capacity: 550 passengers  Crew:     250

Fate:                      Sunk                         

Status:                    Wreck lies near Coffee Bay, Eastern Cape, South Africa

The Fate of the Vessel

The  Oceanos sank off South Africa's eastern coast on 4 August 1991 during a storm which caused leaking in the engine room and eventually flooded the ship.

On 3 August 1991, the Oceanos set out from East London, and headed to Durban. She headed into 40-knot winds and 9 m swells. 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 the ship was rolling about from side to side so badly that crockery and cutlery began sliding off the tables and potted plants were falling over.

At approximately 21:30 UTC+2, while off the Wild Coast of the Transkei, a muffled explosion was heard and the Oceanos lost her power following a leak in the engine room's sea chest. The ship's chief engineer reported to Captain Yiannis Avranas that water was entering the hull and flooding the generator room. The generators were shut down because the rising water would have short circuited them. The ship was left adrift. The water steadily rose, flowing through the 10 cm (3.9 in) hole in the bulkhead and into the sewage waste disposal tank. Without check valves in the holding tank, the water coursed through the main drainage pipes and rose through the ship, spilling out of showers, toilets, and waste disposal units.

Realising the fate of the ship, the crew fled in panic, neglecting the standard procedure of closing the lower deck portholes. No alarm was raised. Passengers remained ignorant of the events taking place until they witnessed the first signs of flooding in the lower decks. At this stage, eyewitness accounts reveal that many of the crew, including Captain Avranas, were already packed and ready to depart, seemingly unconcerned with the safety of the passengers.

As no alarm or announcement was given that the ship was in trouble, several passengers went to the bridge to look for the captain but found it unmanned. Entertainer Moss Hills then used the radio phone to broadcast a mayday until a ship answered. Nearby vessels responded to the ship's SOS and were the first to provide assistance. The South African Navy along with the South African Air Force launched a seven-hour mission in which 16 helicopters were used to airlift the passengers and crew to the nearby settlements of The Haven and Hole in the Wall about 10 km south of Coffee Bay. Of the 16 rescue helicopters, 13 were South African Air Force Pumas, nine of which hoisted 225 passengers off the deck of the sinking ship.

After many officers and crew abandoned ship, women and children were given priority when loading the lifeboats by Oceanos' cruise director Lorraine Betts. Later as the ship developed a severe starboard list that rendered the remaining lifeboats useless; the remaining passengers had to be airlifted onto South African Air Force helicopters by means of a safety harness.

The following day, at approximately 15:30, the Oceanos rolled over onto her side and sank by the bow, eventually striking sand 90 m below the surface while more than 60 m of her stern remained aloft a few minutes before also slipping below, coming to rest on her starboard side almost at right angles to the coastline, with her bow facing seaward.

The Aftermath

Captain Yiannis Avranas and the crew were criticized by passengers for leaving hundreds behind with no one other than the ship's onboard entertainers to help them evacuate. Avranas claimed that he left the ship first to arrange for a rescue effort, and then supervised the rescue from a helicopter. He justified his actions saying that the "ship was in darkness and the batteries on the crew's walkie-talkies had died, meaning that he had no communications with his crew or with other rescue craft". Avranas was quoted as saying "When I order abandon the ship, it doesn't matter what time I leave. Abandon is for everybody. If some people like to stay, they can stay." A Greek board of inquiry found Avranas and four officers negligent in their handling of the disaster.

The Wreck

The Oceanos wreck lies at a depth of between 92 m and 97 m, about 5 km offshore. Divers have visited the wreck site, but currents are strong and there are many sharks in the area, so diving is difficult. Photographs taken in 2002 show that the bridge section of Oceanos has collapsed.

(2)     SAS President Kruger (1982)

Ship Name: SAS President Kruger  Owner: SA Navy


Launched: 20 October 1960 Out of service: 18 February 1982

Displacement: 2144 tons (2557 tons loaded)

Length: 370 ft (110 m)

Propulsion: 2 shafts, 2 steam turbines, 2 boilers, 25,000 shp 

Speed: 28 knots (52 km/h)

Range: 4,500 nmi (8,300 km) at 12 knots (22 km/h)

Complement:      250

Fate:      Sunk       (1982 in a collision with SAS Tafelberg)

The SAS President Kruger was a frigate of the South African Navy. She sank in 1982 with the loss of 16 lives after colliding with her replenishment ship, the SAS Tafelberg, in the South Atlantic.

The Fate of the Vessel

On 18 February 1982, while under the command of Captain de Lange, the President Kruger was conducting complex exercises with her sister ship the SAS President Pretorius, the submarine SAS Emily Hobhouse and the replenishment ship SAS Tafelberg. The high-intensity exercises progressed from 6 am to 11 pm over several days, with different candidate submarine captains being given an opportunity of executing a mock attack against the Tafelberg. From 11 pm until 6 am, the ships followed a narrow zip-zag course that allowed the submarine repeated opportunities to engage the surface ships in lower-intensity exercises while the bulk of the crew rested. The frigates too were using the opportunity to carry out anti-submarine exercises, with each ship given a patrol sector ahead of the Tafelberg. The escorts were expected to patrol their areas in a random fashion, between 610 m and 1,500 m from Tafelberg.

At approximately 4 am, the whole formation had to change direction by 154 degrees, a near complete reversal in direction. The frigates had to change direction first to maintain their protective positions ahead of Tafelberg on the new heading. President Kruger's options were to turn 200 degrees to port, or 154 degrees to starboard. While the latter turn was smaller and tactically sound, it was more dangerous as it involved turning towards the other two ships. Critically, the officer of the watch (OOW) elected to turn to starboard, and initiated a 10 degree turn. A 10 degree turn had a larger radius and would take longer to execute than a 15 degree turn, thereby allowing Tafelberg more time to close on the ship turning in front of her. Partway through the turn, the operations room lost radar contact with the Tafelberg in the clutter. At that point, an argument ensued between the OOW and the Principal Warfare Officer over the degree of wheel to apply. The OOW was unable to recover the situation, and the bows of the Tafelberg impacted the President Kruger on her port side at the senior ratings' mess. The President Kruger sank 78 nautical miles (144 km) south west of Cape Point, killing 16 people.

A Westland Wasp helicopter, operated by 22 Squadron SAAF from the other frigate, rescued crew members from the water.


A naval board of inquiry was commissioned, leading to a finding of a lack of seamanship by the captain and officers of the ship. The inquest aportioned blame on the captain and PWO. As a result of an international arms embargo against apartheid South Africa, the ship could not be replaced, and was therefore a great loss to the capability and morale of the navy for many years afterwards.

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