Last Call: A Fun Fact Friday tale about a cook that will haunt your dreams

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Last CallLast CallLast Call is The Takeout’s online watering hole where you can chat, share recipes, and use the comment section as an open thread. Here’s what we’ve been reading/watching/listening around the office today.

I’ve been thinking a lot about sinking ships this week. Thinking about what it must have felt like being on one, desperately fighting against all rational odds to survive, finding a god, praying for rescue. All of that reminded me of a fun fact about a cook who survived for three days in a sunken ship. Maybe it’s really more of a story than a fun fact, but regardless it qualifies for this week’s installment of Fun Fact Friday because it is currently pertinent to my interests.

In May of 2013, Harrison Okene was the cook on a tugboat that was towing an oil tanker through rough waters off the coast of Nigeria. An ocean swell snapped the tow rope, capsizing the boat and sending it to the bottom of the ocean. There was no possible escape for the crew who, as a safety precaution against pirates, had locked themselves inside of their cabins when they were asleep. When the boat flipped, Okene was awake in the unlocked bathroom, wearing nothing but his boxers. He was violently tossed around in the darkness, but he crawled his way to the door and began navigating his way through the ship using his hands. As water began to rise through the cabins, he found an empty sleeping cabin and used the mattresses to stay afloat, allowing him to survive in an air pocket.

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As he lay there in total darkness, shivering from the cold and fighting thirst, he began to hear noises as marine life began to explore the ship. Then he heard the sharks devouring the corpses of his crewmates. 

In the waters above, a search and rescue team was searching through the wreckage, looking for remains. They quickly located what was left of the crew in their cabins, and had assumed everyone had been killed even though, according to the ship’s manifest, they were one body short. Okene heard the rescuers’ boat. He heard their anchor drop. And he knew they couldn’t hear him.

He began searching through the room for something to make a loud noise. He found a hammer. He began stripping the walls of the cabin until he hit the steel hull of the ship, and then he started banging like hell. No one heard. No one came. The sound of the rescue divers went away.

Okene was certain he was going to die. His strength was gone, his air was running low, and there was nothing to do but wait. Then, by some miracle, the divers returned to the water. Knowing they wouldn’t find him on their own, the cook took one last breath before plunging into the water, swimming through the ship, and finding the divers his damn self.

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The divers put a diving helmet over his head so he could breathe, then wrapped his body in a harness to bring him up slowly before moving him to a decompression chamber. Okene believed that he had only been trapped for 12 hours. It had been three days.

Enjoy your weekend, everybody!

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About the author

Allison Robicelli

Allison Robicelli is The Takeout staff writer, a former professional chef, host of The Robicelli Argument Clinic Podcast, the author of three books, and a swan meat influencer.