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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

I survived three days in a capsized boat on the ocean flooring – praying in my air bubble Specific Instances

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Harrison Okene was sitting on the bathroom – absolutely the worst place to be as catastrophe strikes – when a freak wave hit the tugboat he was engaged on, and turned it the wrong way up. Now he was on the ground, and the bathroom was above him.

“I used to be attempting to open the door to get out, when the bathroom fell and hit me on the pinnacle,” he says. He simply had time to see blood pour from the wound earlier than the lights went off. “All over the place was darkish.” The lavatory started to fill with water. “It didn’t take lengthy,” he says. “One minute, two minutes” – and he felt the boat contact the seabed. Thirty metres (100ft) beneath the floor, it got here to relaxation.

Okene himself doesn’t use the phrase “catastrophe” to explain the occasions of 26 Might 2013, and the extraordinary days that adopted. He has come to view the expertise very otherwise. He had all the time cherished water, and as a toddler dreamed of a home by the ocean. He loves it much more now.

Okene was going about his regular morning routine when “the incident”, as he calls it, occurred. He was 29 and dealing as a prepare dinner on Jascon-4, a tugboat that was helping an oil tanker about 20 miles off the coast of Nigeria. There had been storms, a swollen sea. The tug had been serving to to stabilise the tanker. Okene had bought up and stated his prayers, as he did each morning, and headed to the galley to activate the hotplates for breakfast. He hadn’t but dressed, and was carrying solely his boxers. He was as a result of go on go away in three days; he was desirous about this as he headed for the toilet, and the wave hit.

Water started to fill the cubicle. Okene panicked as he struggled to open the door. When he lastly emerged into the watery darkness, he had no thought which approach he was dealing with. The propellers had been up, the wheelhouse was down. Port and starboard not held a lot that means. Within the alley to the watertight door – an exit hatch – he met two, or probably three of his colleagues. Because the water degree contained in the boat rose, they battled with the hatch.

The second Okene was rescued. {Photograph}: DCN Diving Group/Barcroft USA

“I didn’t have the persistence to attend,” Okene says. In a transfer that absolutely should run counter to each intuition, he turned away from the exit, and swam additional inside.

Okene’s story of survival is partly about his religion and fortune. However it’s also a narrative of fast decision-making and extraordinary enterprise. As a result of as he swam away from the closed exit, the drive of the water swept him into one other rest room, this one hooked up to the second engineer’s cabin. The door had shut as he was swept in and the water degree rose, however the toilet didn’t fill utterly.

The crew routinely stored all of the cabin doorways shut, due to the specter of pirates. “The air couldn’t exit of the boat utterly. Some needed to be trapped inside,” Okene says. He stored his head within the small pocket of air beneath the ceiling – which was, in actuality, the ground – clinging to the bottom of the washbasin.

Shut away at the hours of darkness he heard “so many shouts, shouts, shouts” – his colleagues “calling and crying”.

At this level, Okene nonetheless regarded the exit hatch as his finest path to freedom. In an effort to depart the toilet, he broke the deal with of the door. “However I advised myself, as an alternative of panicking, it’s a must to consider a approach out.” From this second on, he fostered in himself a form of hyper-composure.

Harrison Okene with some of the rescue team
Okene with among the rescue crew.

Okene says he has all the time been sensible. He was “among the many youngest” of 13 youngsters and his mom regarded him as a helper. He used to hold the greens along with her to promote on the market in Warri, the place they lived. Now, practicality was how he would persuade himself that he was “answerable for the scenario”. Recognizing a vent, he broke it, and used a bit of the vent’s metal to prise open the door and free himself. As he labored, “one after one other”, the shouts of his colleagues fell silent. “I couldn’t hear them any extra.” He assumed that they had escaped.

When Okene opened the door and entered the second engineer’s cabin, he noticed two lifejackets, every with a torch. He put one torch in his mouth, the opposite in his boxers, and swam again to the watertight door once more to attempt to escape. Outdoors the second engineer’s cabin, the corridors had been stuffed with water, there was no air pocket, and he didn’t have sufficient breath to work away on the exit door for lengthy.

Repeatedly over the next minutes and hours, he returned, swimming between the security of his air pocket and the watertight door. The primary time, he nearly missed his approach again to the security of the second engineer’s toilet – there have been so many doorways: the engine room, chiller, mess room. “In the event you bought caught in any room, you had been misplaced. It was completely darkish, I used to be confused. In the event you don’t act quick, you possibly can lose your life there,” he says. Later, he realized that one among his colleagues had entered the mess room and drowned.

Once more, Okene centered on practicalities. Looking by means of baggage, he discovered a tin of sardines, a can of cola and a few unfastened coveralls. He tore the covers into strips, and tied the strips collectively right into a rope. He secured one finish of it to the door of the cabin. Now, when he bought drained on the watertight hatch, “I may use the rope to information myself again.”

The water was very chilly, so subsequent Okene ripped the wood panels from the ceiling and tied them collectively into somewhat raft. Now he may sit up there in his tiny air pocket, and determine his approach out of the wreck and the door that will not budge.

In whole darkness and silence, Okene discovered himself in an odd second, in a spot past all maps of human survival. It was as if he had handed right into a parallel world with solely a faltering sense of time and little to chop by means of the sensory deprivation, aside from the muffled hum of vessels transferring by means of the ocean almost 30 metres above him. Now Okene understood that he should not go away his base. To open the watertight door appeared inconceivable. “So I needed to maintain my thoughts away from that. ‘Let me simply keep put,’ I assumed.”

He had consumed a lot salt water on his forays that his throat throbbed and his tongue peeled. He ate the sardines and drank the cola, whereas crayfish made a supper of his physique. He may really feel them biting his legs, torso and arms, making new wounds. And on a regular basis, the water degree was rising. Okene considered his mom, and of his spouse. “How is she feeling? How will the world deal with her? I had entry to nothing. Every thing was ideas and recollections earlier than my eyes.” He prayed, and sang – “so many church songs. ‘Father we can not see you, however we will see your wonders,’” he sings once more now, down the telephone.

Harrison Okene
Okene now works as a diver.

“I attempted to kill the concern in entrance of me. As a result of one factor that may kill you quick is concern. That panic that comes at you, it kills you earlier than your actual demise comes. As a result of the second you begin panicking, you utilize an excessive amount of oxygen.”

When a unique sound – nearer to him – disturbed the silence, Okene had no thought {that a} diver had come to place a marker buoy on the vessel to warn different visitors of the wreck’s location. He hammered in hope on the facet of the boat, “attempting to get a sign to the individual outdoors”.

He has no thought what number of hours or days afterwards he turned conscious of a tiny disturbance within the darkness – “a mirrored image of sunshine like a bubble”. He left his raft to attempt to discover the supply of the sunshine, failed, returned, stuffed his lungs with what little oxygen was left, and appeared once more. This time he noticed the diver, swimming on a protracted umbilical.

Video from the digicam on the diver’s helmet exhibits the second that the diver noticed Okene’s pale palm floating within the water earlier than him. The diver relays to base that he has discovered one other physique. After which Okene’s hand grabs his.

First, Okene was taken to the divers’ bell, and from there to a recompression chamber the place he would spend an extra three days; he would have died if he had returned straight to the floor. He couldn’t imagine it when the rescue crew advised him that he had been underwater for almost three days. He had no sense of getting handed even a single night time.

Extremely, when Okene’s very important indicators had been measured, he says: “Every thing was regular. My temperature, blood strain. I assumed, that’s not regular.”

Launched from the recompression chamber, he shunned recommendation to go to hospital. He was determined to get dwelling. However over the following few weeks, media groups gathered at his entrance door, and the nights had been besieged by goals. As he slept, he “felt the mattress sinking. I’d choose up my spouse, carry her, and attempt to open the door to get out,” he says.

They went to the Gambia for a break. A resort on the seafront may sound just like the worst place to recuperate, however for Okene, the ocean had all the time been “a really peaceable place”. He swam, within the pool, within the sea, and when he bought again to Nigeria, he says, “I used to be OK.”

However in some ways, the toughest half now started. Okene needed to reconfigure his understanding of his place on this planet, his life. He noticed a psychologist, “however she was not saying something that made sense to me”. He felt himself adrift.

Once more, an accident offered a turning level.


The 12 months after the Jascon-4 sank, Okene was driving to work with a buddy when his automotive went off a bridge and into the water within the metropolis of Port Harcourt. “After I opened my eyes, my 4 tyres had been up.” He swam out of the automotive, solely to grasp that his buddy was nonetheless within the passenger seat. He swam again to carry him out. Neither had sustained accidents, in order that they went to the police station, the place they had been advised the automotive needed to be faraway from the water.

“So I went down into the water once more to place the rope across the automotive and convey the automotive out. After that I advised myself: ‘What are you afraid of? How are you going to be scared? You’ve gotten seen a lot. You probably have come by means of this, I believe you shouldn’t be afraid of something.’”

Okene needed to coach as a diver, however his older brother, anxious for his wellbeing, counselled towards it. In 2015, Okene and his spouse separated. “I used to be alone. I didn’t have youngsters, I didn’t have a spouse. Not job. I used to be annoyed. Simply alone with my canine. I used to be depressed, however no person knew,” he says.

Okene sounds extra terrified of this expertise than of his time underwater. He felt he would die if he didn’t act. “If I had sat down and stated: ‘I’m not going to the ocean once more’, I’d not be right here as we speak.” He enrolled on a three-month diving course, and advised his brother when he had accomplished it.

“I’ve confronted loads of my fears in my life, and I made a decision to face this as soon as and for all,” he says. “I do know it must be my concern, however I don’t should be terrified of water. As a result of I have to embrace my concern as soon as and for all and be sturdy. Our happiness, our pleasure, our future – they’re all in our fingers. I needed to reprogramme my pondering. I balanced my thoughts,” he says

Eight years on, Okene, now 39, works as a diver, putting in, setting up and making repairs to grease and gasoline amenities; he’s on his dive vessel as we communicate. “The utmost depth I can go to now could be 50m,” he says. He has a companion, and three youngsters. His expertise underwater, and his survival “have modified my life in so some ways. The way in which I believe, the way in which I see life. And, sure, improved my life truly,” he says. “I do know there’s a God, and there’s a God beside me. I do know he has an incredible function for me. I all the time really feel so snug and information myself. I attempt to not offend anyone and I attempt to belief life, as a result of when people are near demise, that’s once they perceive … We’re all one.” Which means comes from “the lives you contact”.

Okene has a home by a lake now, however it’s not fairly the place he needs to be. “If I’ve the cash, I’m going to purchase a home beside the ocean.”


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