Telling his story to UK news outlet The Guardian in 2013, Okene described his feeling when he was submerged along with the boat: “All around me was just black, and noisy. 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.”
Okene was a cook on board the Jackson 4. He was one of 12 crew members when the craft capsized 12 miles off the Nigerian coast in May 2013.
“It was around 5am and I was on the toilet when the vessel just started going down – the speed was so, so fast,” Okene narrated.
As the water overcame the boat, Okene was swept into another toilet chamber. He was at the mercy of the ocean that he knew at the time had drowned some of his colleagues.
When his boat was 30 meters underwater, Okene could not see anything. All around him was pitch-dark and the ocean in which he swam was predictably cold.
In the hours that ensued, Okene tried to find if another person was alive or maybe, if a diver had been sent. Another hurdle he had to jump was that solitude in the ocean was not quite something sea-people are trained to survive.
But all his movements was expending the very little oxygen he was receiving in the water. In fact, the rescue team that later found him theorized that if they were to find any living person, they had concerns about how that person would react having inhaled in that much nitrogen during the time.
If that much nitrogen-filled any living person, they would most likely die if they rushed their heartbeat. That means a survivor in that instance should be helped into not panicking.
In the almost three days he was in the ocean, Okene had only a bottle of Coke to survive on. The mission that was organized to go look for the Jackson 4 was not a rescue mission – it was looking for corpses.
The assumption of the mission made sense. Anyone on the Jackson 4 would have been killed by how much water they would swallow.
An officer on that mission, Paul MacDonald, later wrote on his Facebook wall, “How it [Okene’s lungs] wasn’t full of water is anyone’s guess. I would say someone was looking after him.”
Okene himself had lost track of time and had began to give up hope until when he heard and saw a diver. But the Nigerian was too tired to attract the attention of the one who could save him.
Thankfully, the diver returned but thought Okene was also dead but Okene pulled the diver’s hand to the diver’s surprise. The then 29-year-old cook spent the following 48 hours in a decompression chamber.
When he was fit enough to interact with people and his surrounding, Okene was told he was the only survivor.
“They told me all the others had died and I cried because I thought I was the only one who had been trapped in the boat,” he said in the interview.
Okene has vowed never to go back to sea. These days, he is a cook but on solid grounds only.