Trapped under the sea, praying to be found
On May 26, a tugboat capsized 20 miles off the coast of Nigeria. Of the 12 people on board, divers recovered 10 dead.
After two days trapped in freezing cold water and breathing from an air bubble in an upturned tugboat under the ocean, the ship’s cook, Harrison Okene, was sure he was going to die.
Okene survived by discovering a four foot high bubble of air near the ceiling of the bathroom and bedroom. He stayed there until two South African divers rescued him two days later. A remaining crew member was never found.
“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.
At 4:50 a.m. on May 26, Okene was in the bathroom when the tugboat was beginning to flip over. As water rushed in and the boat flipped, he opened the bathroom (“toilet”) 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.”
Okene was swept along a passageway by water into another bathroom adjoining an officer’s cabin. The boat crashed to the ocean floor.
Wearing only underpants, he survived around a day in the four foot square bathroom, holding onto the overturned sink. He eventually built up the courage to swim into the bedroom and began pulling off the wall paneling to use as a tiny raft to lift himself out of the water.
But he was not alone in the darkness.
Photo: Reuters/David Loh
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