The night a guitarist, a bassist and a magician saved 581 people from dying on a sinking cruise ship at sea

An explosion in the engine room of the MTS Oceanos triggered a shipwreck that endangered the lives of 585 people who miraculously survived.

On August 3, 1991 Moss Hill and his wife Tracy played like every night in the social room of the cruise ship MTS Oceanos. They were part of the ship’s band, he played the guitar and she played the bass, but that night something would happen that would change their lives forever.

Around 8:30, the ship began to lean to one side, minutes before a strong storm had started and the rough seas were pounding violently, making even the experienced cruise waiters have a hard time keeping food and drinks on their plates.

For Moss and Tracy it was not an easy night either, the movement of the boat made it difficult for them to play, but they were clear that the show had to go on, especially since little by little the room where they were was filling up with cruise passengers, who, disconcerted by the movement, were looking for company to get through the turbulence.

What the musicians, waiters, and passengers did not know, it was that there had been an explosion in the cruiser’s engine room, and with every passing minute they were closer to sinking to the bottom of the sea.

From one moment to another the lights of the cruiser went out, and fear began to take over the 581 people on boardbetween passengers and crew.

“No one knew what was happening and the ship was rocking and pitching wildly, with chairs, tables, bottles and glasses crashing. People were alarmed and confused.” Moss Hill tells on the website where he commemorates the event.

The incredible story of a musician who risked his life to save the lives of passengers aboard a capsized cruise ship
The passengers in the lounge of the cruise during the hours of capsizing in which they did not know if they would be able to be rescued.

He was going through the band’s equipment together with Robin Boltman, another of the artists, and to try to calm people down he began to play his acoustic guitar and sing all the songs he could remember from his repertoire.

It was after 10 at night and there was no sign that the power was going to return, There was also no word from the captain or crew officers, so Moss and Robin decided to go out and find out what was going on.

According to the Captain it was all due to an engine failure, but there was no cause for concern, the people were safe on the ship and at any moment everything would return to normal.

The explanations did not convince the guitarist from Zimbabwe, who decided to go to the engine room in the company of Julian Butler (stage name Julian Russell, the magician of the cruise) to investigate for themselves what was happening.

Along the way they found deck officers going from one place to another, wearing life jackets and all wet, speaking different languages ​​and clearly upset. They didn’t seem to notice his presence, so they continued on their way.

The further they went, the dark took over them, they were alone, there was no one else, something completely abnormal even in the worst situations. With difficulty they managed to verify that the metal doors that functioned as a safety barrier to prevent water from entering the ship in case of flooding were closed, but they also noticed what appeared to be a large body of water behind the doors.

There was no doubt the Oceanos was sinking.

The incredible story of a musician who risked his life to save the lives of passengers aboard a capsized cruise ship
The MTS Oceanos traveled from the port of East London in England to Durban in South Africa.

improvised heroes

A few days before that fateful night, Moss had had his 15-year-old daughter, Amber, on board the cruise ship, returning to her boarding school in South Africa shortly before the MTS Oceanos set sail on her final voyage.

Now, in the midst of the darkness, the storm and a shipwreck in the making, she couldn’t get out of her head. It was clear to Moss that Amber couldn’t be left homeless, so he had to survive, or at least make sure his wife Tracy did.

Without a doubt, this was the motivation that made him become the hero of this story, especially when when he returned to the lounge with the passengers it was clear that neither the captain nor the officers on board were interested in saying that the ship was sinking. .

Rather, they were the first to leave the cruise ship in lifeboats, with only the highest-ranking members of the crew aware of the need to evacuate.

There was no time to lose and Moss took matters into his own hands. Although he had no idea how to evacuate a cruise ship, how to launch lifeboats into the water, and how to organize passengers to board them, there was no one on board capable of doing so.

With one leg on the boat and the other on the lifeboat, Moss tried to stabilize the escape vehicle as they figured out a way to lower it without plunging it into the dark waters.

The incredible story of a musician who risked his life to save the lives of passengers aboard a capsized cruise ship
Tracy and Moss continued to play cruise ships for years after the terrible night the Oceanos sank.

These were moments of extreme tension in which the guitarist and his partner, the magician Butler, did the best they could, but they quickly realized that no matter how hard they tried, there was a very big chance that the people who boarded the boats would end up drowned in the middle of nowhere, or died from an accidental and ironic fall from the life preserver where they placed their hopes.

“Fortunately, no one fell into the sea or was caught between the lifeboat bobbing between the water and the ship. It is ridiculous that passengers have been exposed to this kind of unnecessary danger. If trained staff had been running things, it would have been a lot less risky.” says Moss.

The incredible story of a musician who risked his life to save the lives of passengers aboard a capsized cruise ship
Moss Hill above one of the lifeboats helping to fill it with women and children.

Around 3:00 am the lifeboats were exhausted and there were still about 220 people on board the Oceanos. Moss then went to the bridge of the ship, where he expected to find the captain… he was wrong, there was no sign of him, again, they were alone.

Without knowing how to handle the radio, he desperately began to repeat “mayday, mayday”waiting for someone to reply. Minutes passed and the tension became unbearable.

Finally, a voice on the other side of the radio answered his SOS, asking what was going on and where they were.

Moss tried to explain as best he could that the MTS Oceans was halfway between the port of East London (England) and Durban (South Africa), but he did not know coordinates or navigation indicators, and he was also not sure how much longer the cruise could stay afloat.

“But what rank do you have?”the voice on the radio asked. “None, I’m the guitarist of the band”he said desperately. “Who else is in the booth with you?”they answered after a silence. “Well, my wife who is the bassist and the magician of the cruise.”

It was all absurd, Moss knew he had nothing to do in that cabin, but there was no sign of the captain, so he begged again for help.

The South African guitarist was put in contact with small nearby boats, which could do little to help since they barely had a lifeboat each and there were hundreds of people on board. They had to find the captain, his life could depend on it.

They divided the ship to search for him, they knew he must be on deck or in the rooms because the lower part of the ship was already taking on water. So Moss decided to head to the rear of the cruiser, where he finally found Captain Yiannis Avranas smoking in the dark.

The incredible story of a musician who risked his life to save the lives of passengers aboard a capsized cruise ship
The MTS Oceanos finally sank on the morning of August 4, 1991.

He was in shock, and only repeated that “it was not necessary” with each request for help.

a miraculous rescue

According to the estimates of Captain Avranas, there were between two and three hours left for the cruise ship to finish sinking, barely time for a rescue operation to be deployed.

The rescue had to be by air, since the nearby ships could not reach the Oceans because of the storm, there was a high risk that they would collide and not only endanger the rescue ship, but also precipitate the sinking of the cruise ship.

Fortunately they managed to confirm the coordinates of the shipwreckbut it took at least three hours for the helicopters to start arriving. Avranas’ calculation was wrong, but he didn’t know it, nor did anyone on board, so the wait was grim, literally coming face to face with imminent death.

The incredible story of a musician who risked his life to save the lives of passengers aboard a capsized cruise ship
Moss Hill now lives in Liverpool, England, and now runs cruise ships.

The most outrageous thing, in Moss’s own words, was that the captain boarded the second helicopter, still convinced that the ship would sink at any moment, and without caring that hundreds of people were missing to be evacuated.

Miraculously the ship held, and only sank 45 minutes after the last passenger was evacuated. It was the morning of August 4, 1991.

Moss, Tracy and James were among the last 12 passengers to be rescued, because they helped everyone else to board the helicopters, and they saw from the air how the cruise ship sank in which they could lose their lives.

The incredible story of a musician who risked his life to save the lives of passengers aboard a capsized cruise ship
Moss Hill and his wife Tracy were among the last people to be rescued because they dedicated themselves to helping save the other passengers.

Incredibly, all 585 passengers aboard the MTS Oceanos survived that traumatic experience, largely thanks to the heroic performance of a Zimbabwean guitarist who became rescuer, ship captain, and leader.

They say it’s moments of crisis that define great characters, Moss might agree, though in the dozens of times he’s told the story since then, it’s never been overly praised. For him, remembering what happened that night in August is something cathartic, which has helped him face all the adversities that life has faced since then.

Moss and Tracy continued to work as cruise ship musicians for years and currently manage cruise ships.


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