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HARROWING ORDEAL: Nigerian man survives boat capsize in air bubble

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
June 13th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Trapped for two days in freezing cold water in an air bubble in a capsized boat off the coast of Nigeria, 29-year-old Harrison Okene is very lucky to be alive. "It was horror," he says.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Convinced he was going to die, ship's cook Okene was onboard a tugboat when it capsized on May 26 due to heavy Atlantic ocean swells about 20 miles off the coast of Nigeria.

Divers recovered 10 dead bodies and one remaining crew member has not been found of the 12 people onboard.

Okene somehow survived, breathing inside a four-foot high bubble of air as it slowly shrank from the waters rising from the ceiling of the tiny toilet and adjoining bedroom. Two South African divers eventually rescued him.

"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.

Okene said that on the day of the capsize; he was in the toilet when he realized the tugboat was beginning to turn over. As water rushed in and the tugboat flipped, he forced open the metal door.

"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 would then spend the next two-and-a-half days trapped under the sea in that tiny bathroom. "I couldn't see anything," Okene said.

"But I could perceive the dead bodies of my crew were nearby. I could smell them. The fish came in and began eating the bodies. I could hear the sound. It was horror."

Divers on the search for crew members assumed that everyone was dead - until on the afternoon of May 28, Okene, heard them.

"I heard a sound of a hammer hitting the vessel. Boom, boom, boom ... I hammered the side of the vessel hoping someone would hear me . I was waving my hands and he was shocked," Okene said of the rescuer who noticed him.

Okene said he reached the surface more than 60 hours after the ship sank and spent another 60 hours in a decompression chamber where his body pressure was returned to normal. If he had been exposed immediately to the outside air he would have died.

Okene is not keen on returning to the sea. "When I am at home sometimes it feels like the bed I am sleeping in is sinking. I think I'm still in the sea again. I jump up and I scream," Okene said, shaking his head.

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