In 2013, a tugboat towed an oil tanker off the coast of Nigeria. Suddenly, at 4:30 in the morning, a rogue wave capsized the boat and snapped the tow rope. The boat sank and when divers swam through its remains three days later, they were only looking for bodies. However, one passenger was a Nigerian chef named Harrison Okene. Crew members were locked in their cabins as safety precautions against pirates. Therefore, they were unable to escape when the ship began sinking. However, Okene had arisen to use the bathroom, a decision that saved his life.
Surviving in a Sunken Boat
As the boat capsized, Okene wore only his boxer shorts as he was tossed from the bathroom. “I was dazed, and everywhere was dark as I was thrown from one end of the small cubicle to another,” he said. However, he was the lucky one. None of the other passengers survived.
Fortunately, Okene managed to enter the engineers’ office and breathe via a small pocket of air. Unfortunately, by then, the boat had reached the seafloor, about 100 feet (30 meters) deep. And Okene was left with no clothes, fresh water, or food in a cold room with limited oxygen. All of the odds were stacked against his survival.
“All around me was just black and noisy,” he said. “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.” 
However, he did survive. Okene found a bottle of Coca-Cola in the room along with a life vest that had two little flashlights on it. Despite this bit of fortune, he lost hope as he heard sharks and other predators devour the remains of the other crew members. Still, he managed to create a small platform out of two mattresses to keep him out of the water. If he had remained stuck in the freezing water, he would have died from hypothermia within a few hours.
He explained, “I started calling on the name of G-d… I started reminiscing on the verses I read before I slept. I read the Bible from Psalm 54 to 92. My wife had sent me the verses to read that night when she called me before I went to bed.“
“This man was lucky to survive mainly because a sufficiently large amount of trapped air was in his air pocket,” said physicist and recreational scuba diver Maxim Umansky of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). “He was not poisoned by the CO2 after 60 hours spent there, because it stayed at safe levels, and we can speculate that it was helped by the ocean water sealing his enclosure.” 
After almost three days of praying and thinking about his loved ones, salvage divers discovered him. By that point, Okene was certain he was going to die there. Then he heard a boat engine and a dropping anchor. However, he was trapped in a large vessel and despaired of them locating him on their own. So he pulled the outer layer of the wall in the cabin until he reached its steel layer. He knocked on it with a hammer, at first to no avail. “I heard them moving away. They were far away from where I was.”
But when the divers finally found him, Okene didn’t realize how long he had been trapped in that sunken boat. A diver first warmed him up using hot water then attached him to an oxygen tank. 
“When we came out, I saw the stars in the sky and I thought I must have been in the water for the whole day,” he said. “It was after I left the DCC [decompression chamber] that I was told that I had spent over two days there.”
If other people survived what he did, they may never step near the ocean again. But not Harrison Okene. Instead, he became a commercial diver just two years after his rescue. His incredible story has inspired so many people, from those who share his faith to those who realized how unbreakable the human spirit could be.
- “Nigerian sailor ‘a phenomenon’ for surviving in air pocket for 60 hours.” The Guardian. Monica Mark. June 12, 2013
- “Undersea Miracle: How Man in Sunken Ship Survived 3 Days.” Live Science. Marc Lallanilla. December 4, 2013
- “Harrison Odjegba Okene survived 3 days in air bubble under water.” CBC. December 3, 2013