Nigerian Man Survives Three Days Underwater After Boat Capsizes

Tugboat at Sea

Photo: LegasC/Depositphotos (Not a photo of the actual event.)

In 2013, Harrison Okene‘s life changed forever. Then 29 years old, the Nigerian was working as a cook on the Jascon-4 tugboat when it capsized after being hit by a large wave. The boat then sank 100 feet to the bottom of the sea, killing all crew members except for Okene. The story of how he survived is an incredible tale of fate and perseverance.

The Jascon-4 was about 20 miles off the coast of Nigeria working to stabilize a Chevron oil tanker when disaster struck. Just before 5 a.m., a rogue wave snapped the tugboat's tie line and flipped it over. Most of the crew were locked in their cabins. But Okene had just left his to use the toilet and was in the bathroom at the time.

After the boat flipped over, Okene, who was just wearing his underwear, managed to open the bathroom door. That's when he saw several of his crewmates being sucked into the sea. He was pulled down the hallway and, as the boat sank further into the depths of the sea, ended up in an officer's cabin.

It was there in the bathroom that, miraculously, he found a pocket of air. While small, this air pocket was key to his survival. But to make it out alive, he also had to think about hypothermia. As he was just wearing underwear, he needed to keep as much of his body out of the water as possible. Eventually, he made his way into the adjoining bedroom where he peeled off wall paneling to fashion a makeshift platform in order to keep hypothermia at bay.

But still, without any idea of what had happened to everyone on board or if help was coming, the situation was dire. “All around me was just black, and noisy,” Okene recalled. “I was crying and calling on Jesus to rescue me, I prayed so hard. I was so hungry and thirsty and cold and I was just praying to see some kind of light.”

Diver Exploring a Shipwreck

Photo: agiampiccolo/Depositphotos (Not a photo of the actual event.)

Around 60 hours after he'd sunk to the bottom on the sea, just when his air supply was getting dangerously low, his prayers were answered. Unbeknownst to him, Chevron had sent a crew of South African divers on a mission to recover bodies from the wreckage.

“I heard a sound of a hammer hitting the vessel,” he said. “Boom, boom, boom. I swam down and found a water dispenser. I pulled the water filter and I hammered the side of the vessel hoping someone would hear me. Then the diver must have heard a sound.”

The diver then moved into the interior of the ship and that's when Okene could see a beam of light pierce the cabin. At first, Okene reached out to touch him. But not wanting to scare the diver, who he knew was not expecting to find someone alive, he pulled back and began waving his hands at the diver's camera.

“The diver walked in and at the back, there was an air pocket he was sitting in,” said Paul MacDonald, an officer on the support vessel. “How it wasn't full of water is anyone's guess. I would say someone was looking after him.”

Still, Okene's ordeal was not over. Not only was his skin peeling off from being submerged in water for so long, he was also starving. But before he could get to safety, the divers needed to think of how to move him. After being underwater at that depth for so long, his body had absorbed a large quantity of nitrogen. If he'd immediately been brought back to the surface, he would have had a heart attack.

So, after being strapped into diving equipment, he was guided to a diving bell that took him to the surface. From there, he spent two days in a decompression chamber to normalize his body pressure. It was then that he learned the fate of his crewmates. Divers had recovered 10 bodies, while one was never found. Okene was the only survivor.

“I don’t know what stopped the water from filling that room,” the grateful survivor admitted. “I was calling on God. He did it. It was a miracle.”

While Okene is grateful to be alive, he was left with PTSD from the experience. Still, in time, he's started to move on with his life. Right after the accident, he vowed never to return to the ocean. But, two years later he faced his fears and became a certified commercial diver. And, in a full circle moment, the diver who rescued him was the one who handed him his diploma.

Watch the incredible moment when Harrison Okene was rescued after spending three days on a capsized boat.

Listen as he reflects on his harrowing experience five years after the accident.

h/t: [Reuters]

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Staff Editor and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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