When 29-year-old Nigerian cook Harrison Okene took the job that would come to define his life, he had reasonable expectations. He was to work offshore, making tasty meals for a small crew. Heavy-lifting wasn’t in the day-to-day. He cooked and cleaned.
But then he found himself in a hostile work environment: a capsized, sinking vessel. Soon, warm galleys were replaced with freezing water and total darkness. If he was going to survive, he was going to have to think outside the job description.
The nightmare began on a picturesque day that started out as completely routine. Twelve men were stabilizing an oil tanker off the coast of Nigeria, a crucial task that, if done improperly, can have devastating results.
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The ship’s resident chef, 29-year-old Harrison Okene was responsible for preparing all of the crew’s meals. The young man distinctly remembers the fateful morning when everything started to go horribly wrong.
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The rocky waves in the Atlantic were manageable at first: the team was experienced. When they realized just how significantly they were underestimating the power of the tumultuous seas, it was too late.
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At 4:50 in the morning, Okene was in the bathroom — and caught completely off guard — when the ship capsized. He knew he had to take action to save his own life.
As ice-cold water rushed in to the small room, he forced his panic to subside in order to think. Letting instinct take over, Okene opened the bathroom door so he wouldn’t become trapped. He still remembers the horrific sight from that morning.
“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,” he recalled. Before he could react, however, something else shocked him.
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As the boat fell through the watery depths, Okene went flying to the other end of the vessel, into another bathroom connected to an officer’s bedroom. Then, all motion stopped.
His stomach sank as he imagined the ship was about to hit the sea floor. Wearing only his underwear, he clutched the basin of the toilet above his head to stay afloat (the ship was upside-down, remember). The situation was bleak.
All at once, the young man’s primal survival instincts kicked in, and he knew he had to fight for his life. Holding onto the toilet was working in the moment, but the plan wasn’t sustainable. So, he made a bold move
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Okene swam blindly into the officer’s bedroom and, thinking quickly, ripped paneling off the walls to use as a raft. Barely able to catch his breath, he took stock of the situation. It was worse then he thought.
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In the pitch black and freezing cold, he was incredibly disoriented from the accident. The conditions were harsh, and even though he knew he was safe for a moment, he was biting back a suffocating feeling of dread.
“I was very, very cold and it was black. I couldn’t see anything. But I could perceive the dead bodies of my crew were nearby,” he said. “I could smell them. The fish came in and began eating the bodies. I could hear the sound. It was horror.”
As he sat helplessly, watching the fish devour his crew-mates, Okene clung to the makeshift raft and waited in desperation while minutes turned into hours. He began to lose hope.
Time went by, and the air surrounding him grew thinner and thinner. The conditions were horrific, but one feeling in particular stood out to him during these torturous moments.
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“I was so hungry but mostly so, so thirsty,” he said. “The salt water took the skin off my tongue.” There was no food to be found, a fact compounded by all the saltwater he had to keep spitting out.
He was starting to give up hope when, miraculously, after what had felt like years (and in reality was an astounding 60 hours) Okene heard it: the sounds of the rescue team above.
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“I heard a sound of a hammer hitting the vessel,” Okene recalled of the incredible moment. “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.”
Mere seconds later, light illuminated the small room where he was trapped. For the first time since the boat sank, Okene breathed a sigh of relief: the ship’s owners, along with Chevron, had come to his rescue. But even though the ordeal is over, he is still haunted.
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“When I am at home sometimes it feels like the bed…is sinking. I think I’m still in the sea again. I jump up and I scream. I don’t know what stopped the water from filling that room. I was calling on God. He did it. It was a miracle.”
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Tragically, he was the only survivor of the initial 12-man crew. Okene worried about others refusing to believe his story; he’d come across scores of people who were called liars for what happened at sea.
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In early May of 2017, Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiava, along with their dogs, Valentine and Zeus, boarded their yacht, the Sea Nymph. Their course was set to sail from Honolulu to Tahiti, a trip meant to take just under 3 weeks. But plans quickly changed when the unexpected hit.
Shortly after departing, a devastating storm damaged the Sea Nymph. Their steerage system was essentially ruined, inhibiting them from keeping any sort of course. Just hours after hitting the open sea, Appel and Fuiava were rendered helpless, completely at the mercy of the Pacific.
The two women had only met a few months earlier, and they were certainly an odd duo. Appel was 47 when they started the voyage and Fuiava, just 27. Despite their significant difference in age, their experience sailing was about the same — basically none at all.
Fuiava had previously been a security guard in Samoa, while Appel was coming from a job in Texas as a landscaper. Appel’s plan was to settle on the Polynesian Island and find her way into organic farming. Fuiava was just in it for the adventure. That adventure, as it turned out, was a lot more than she bargained for.
In spite of the two women’s nominal seafaring experience, they did make some elaborate preparations. For example, they somehow had the wherewithal to stock enough food for themselves and their two dogs to last them a year. So while Appel and Fuiava were adrift on the Pacific, they could at least rest assured they wouldn’t starve.
As days turned into months, friends and family ashore grew concerned about the two women. Fuiava’s mother reported her daughter missing at sea after only days had passed and there was no word from her. Even still, their whereabouts, let alone whether or not they had survived the storm, were a mystery.
Then in late October of 2017, almost 5 months since the two women had gone missing, their boat was spotted. A crew of Taiwanese fishermen discovered the boat about 1,000 miles off the Japanese coast. As the crew approached the defeated Sea Nymph, they braced themselves to encounter the worst.
After five long months alone at sea without any contact, Appel, Fuiava, and their two dogs were alive and well! The Taiwanese fishing crew contacted the U.S. Coastguard based out of Guam. The USS Ashland was then promptly dispatched on a mission to rescue the two women and their pets.
Appel reported that seeing the Navy ship on the horizon felt like the ultimate salvation. She recounted, “They saved our lives. The pride and smiles we had when we saw [them] was pure relief.” Not surprisingly, the women also had some truly wild stories from their longtime adrift.
An ongoing encounter with a group of tiger sharks was one of the more hair-raising stories Appel shared. She explained how a group of the sharks, some up to 30 feet, had surrounded their yacht and used it as a prop in teaching the young sharks how to hunt. Appel described the sharks batting at the boat and attacking the hull at night.
As word spread about Appel and Fuiava’s rescue and the tales they relayed, people started to cast doubt on the plausibility of what the women claimed to experience. One of their biggest critics was George Brugess, a shark expert from The Florida Museum of Natural History.
Brugess cast doubt on Appel’s story of the sharks. He clarified that tiger sharks are not social animals and would never be in groups. He also made the point that tiger sharks never grow anywhere near 30 feet, and they also don’t teach their young how to hunt.
Others question the validity of the storm that wrecked them in the first place. The National Weather Service reported that there were no storms on May 3rd when the women claimed they had been ravaged. Footage from NASA satellites backed up the weather reports, yet Appel vehemently protested.
According to her, they were caught in a Force 11 storm. To prove her case, she printed out an email from a Coast Guard forecasting 10-foot waves on that date. Even so, a Force 11 storm would produce waves between 37 and 52 feet. This would make Appel’s claims more than just a small exaggeration.
The other big mystery about the Sea Nymph was why a distress signal was never sent out. There was indeed a working Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon aboard the yacht. If the women truly felt in peril, why did they never employ their rescue device?
When questioned about this, the two reported that they never felt they reached a level of danger worthy of activating the alarm. After five months of aimless drifting, maybe they just got into the ultimate chill mode? Who knows, but that was definitely a long time to sit and just hope for the best.
As Appel and Fuiava’s story came under more scrutiny, other publications came out to report on the women in a more pejoratively defaming sense. The Daily Mail uncovered some of Appel’s past that includes work as a “professional dominatrix and exotic dancer.” How this was pertinent to the story was unclear.
To their defense, the women set up a GoFundMe page. The description for their campaign gave a long, detailed account of all the was misconstrued. It has garnered many negative comments and in 11 months only raised $40.
Even with the questionable tale and contemptuous response, both women said they were not deterred from setting sail again in the future. Though they admitted they would make better preparations.
We may never know what really happened on their boat that fateful day. The important part was that no one, not even the doggies, were harmed in this strange happening. Whatever happened at sea, stayed at sea. But for another sailor, the maritime survival was a bit more dire…
When a middle-aged fisherman named Louis Jordan mysteriously disappeared at sea one fateful day, his family braced themselves for a lifetime of unresolved heartbreak. Would they ever see their son again?
Louis was a 37-year-old fisherman and dock worker from South Carolina who loved being out at sea. So when he embarked on a trip in January 2015 off the coast of South Carolina all by himself, no one thought much of it.
Louis told his family he was going to be home later that same evening, but he never came back. His parents were sure he decided to spend an extra day at sea without telling them, but then a week passed with no word from their son…
Louis’s parents decided they needed to take some kind of action. They began passing out flyers along the coast, hoping someone had seen him. They also started monitoring a list of dead bodies that washed onto the Carolina shores, praying that Louis wasn’t one of them.
Louis’s family held on hope for as long as they could. However, after two straight months, they started to come to terms with the fact he may never return home. His mother hung up photos of him and his boat as a memorial.
Even though friends and family weren’t certain of Louis’s whereabouts, several of them held memorial services in his honor. They all knew the odds of him returning after two months at sea were slim to none.
The family still wanted to believe that they would suddenly receive a phone call telling them Louis had been rescued, but the chances of that happening now seemed like a pipe dream.
However, on Good Friday morning, something astounding happened: Louis Jordan, emaciated, exhausted, but alive, arrived at his parent’s home and jumped into their arms. Their son was back! But how?
Apparently, the day before Good Friday, a massive cargo ship spotted Louis sitting on top of a battered boat that was barely afloat. He was 200 miles off the coast of North Carolina!
According to Louis, a huge swell capsized his 35-foot-long boat during a storm just a couple of days into his journey. The mast of his ship broke in the process along with his radio equipment. He also seriously injured his shoulder. After, he was left drifting alone in the middle of the ocean.
Because Louis was a seasoned fisherman, he was able to bring the ship back to its proper positioning after it capsized. But Louis faced another dire situation: how was he going to catch food with a broken shoulder and almost no equipment?
Luckily, he had pancake mix and a small supply of clean drinking water. But he needed to be extremely mindful of how he rationed his portions. He used his boat’s stove, which still worked, to cook the pancakes, and he managed to catch a few fish using a small net.
Louis also needed to bail water out of his boat frequently to keep it afloat. It suffered a lot of damage in the storm and would take on water throughout the day. Louis managed to remove the sea water, and he also began to collect rainwater to drink.
Using his expertise, Louis was able to construct a makeshift mast and sail. Unfortunately, the ocean’s currents were too strong for the mast to do any significant work, but the wind did help to move the vessel, albeit slowly.
According to Louis, one of the most important items he had with him was a copy of the Bible. He read it over and over again, cover to cover. He prayed every day, hoping it would help him reach safety.
On the day Louis was saved, he was standing atop his vessel waving his arms like a madman and screaming at the top of his lungs. At 1:30 p.m., the day before Good Friday, the coast guard received a call that the Houston Express, a massive cargo ship, picked up a stranded sailor.
Once back on land, Louis was flown to a hospital in Norfolk, Virginia. However, he refused treatment once he got there despite the fact he had a broken shoulder and was severely dehydrated. He wanted nothing more than to reunite with his family as quickly as possible.
The coast guard called Louis’s family to make sure they would be home when he returned. The family was dumbfounded by the phone call. They had almost entirely given up hope, but now their prayers had just been answered.
Louis and his family had an emotional reunion as soon as he arrived. Watching their son walk into the room alive and well was the greatest moment of their lives. They embraced each other for what felt like an eternity, and then they sat down and ate a delicious Easter dinner.
What is Louis going to do now that he’s back on land? He’s not entirely sure. He’s currently living with his parents and taking things day by day. Right now, he’s just glad to be alive, and so is everyone else!