“I personally feel that as a society we have lost many basic moral ideas. Many people don’t want to help each other out. Don’t wait to be asked. Go do it! It’s the natural thing to do.”
Moss Hills truly practices what he preaches. On August 4, 1991, Hills was able to show that when his ship, the MTS Oceanos, began to sink after an external valve called the “sea chest” failed and allowed water to flow into the main water tanks in the bows, which crippled the Greek ship off the coast of South Africa in stormy seas.
I was able to speak with him via Skype in England about his experience:
Moss and his wife Tracy were guitarists at the time. Moss was performing with his wife in the ship’s show lounge when the power went out. Seeing the passengers nervous, Moss tried to distract them from what was happening through more songs and comedy. After thirty minutes, passengers were repeatedly asking what was wrong so Moss decided to investigate with a fellow magician entertainer on board. They asked the captain of the ship, Captain Yiannis Avranas, if the ship was sinking. Captain Avranas replied, “No,” but Moss didn’t trust him.
Moss and the fellow entertainer went down a stairway that led into the bowels of the ship and what they found was pandemonium. Crew members were hurriedly packing their belongings and yelling in many different languages. They even found the engine room completely abandoned. Moving to the next deck, Moss heard the rush of water. Looking down the stairway, he was horrified to find the deck below him completely underwater. It was then that Moss knew the Oceanos was sinking.
Moss quickly discovered a horrifying fact when he arrived at the lifeboat deck and watched officers and crew members pile into the lifeboats, leaving hundreds of passengers to their watery fate. No public announcement had been made that the ship was sinking. None of the officers, or even the captain were helping to make sure all the passengers got off. It was literally every man for himself.
Born in Zimbabwe, Moss said that growing up he had to learn to do things on his own and to be the first one to act. Moss decided to help get all 571 Oceanos passengers off the sinking ship and to coordinate their rescue. Moss, with his fellow entertainers, began to help passengers off the ship into the lifeboats since the ship’s officers were not doing anything to help. With other entertainers, Moss was helping lower the lifeboats into the stormy sea below. “I had never lowered a lifeboat in my life,” said Moss. A few of the lifeboats were damaged while being lowered but he kept going. Eventually, the Oceanos had listed so far over on the starboard side that it was impossible to launch the remaining port side lifeboats but there were still 228 people on board the doomed ship.
Bolting to the ship’s bridge, Moss decided to see if there were rescue ships on the way. He figured the captain and officers of the Oceanos had already radioed for help. Moss quickly learned that that hadn’t happened. Moss tried in vain to get in contact with ships close by. He got in contact with several foreign ships that couldn’t speak a word of English. Laughing, Moss talked to me about how he got in contact with an Asian ship and how they started yelling at him in their native tongue, but they couldn’t understand each other so they gave up. Eventually he got in contact with a Dutch ship close by. The radioman in charge asked Moss what his rank was. Moss replied that he was a guitarist on the ship and the radioman asked, “What are you doing on the bridge?” “Well, there is no one here,” Moss responded. After coordinating on the radio, Moss learned that rescue helicopters would be there in a few more hours. It wasn’t an easy wait.
When the rescue helicopters did arrive, Moss helped two navy divers from the rescue helicopter on board the ship. They confided in him that from the air it looked like the Oceanos didn’t have much more time. They had to get everyone off pronto. The way to do that was to strap two people at a time in a harness and lift them up into the choppers. Moss was recruited to help strap people into the harness and make sure they made it safely. He said that he learned how to do this in five minutes from the navy divers. To help speed this effort, the divers then moved half of the remaining passengers to the rear deck, from where they would run the helicopter airlift, and left Moss to run the airlift of the other half from the fore-deck. “I don’t want to bore you with this story,” said Moss, “but I injured a few people and even broke someone’s ankle. But I didn’t let that stop me and I kept going.” Miraculously, all of the passengers were lifted to safety before the Oceanos plunged below. The navy divers, Moss and his wife Tracy were the last ones off the sinking Oceanos.
As I had the privilege to interview Moss, I was amazed at the faith, perseverance, and humor that he used throughout his telling the story of the ship’s sinking. Moss didn’t see the Oceanos make its final plunge but has seen the video of its final plunge taken from a news helicopter flying over the scene. I asked Moss what he thinks as he watches this footage. He said, “I left my guitars on board when the ship sank. When I see the footage, I can see my cabin go underwater. I think, ‘Well, there go my guitars. Now, they’re all ruined.’ Then I rewind the footage and I say, ‘There, they are dry now.'” I found Moss to be extremely humble when talking about his part in the rescue. A lesson I learned from Moss is that one shouldn’t simply stand by and expect someone else to help someone in need. I saw an example of this here in Rexburg, Idaho. I was walking to class when at a busy crosswalk a fellow student’s car stopped working. I looked around. I was saddened to watch people walk right past and even a lady behind him start screaming at him. I thought of what Moss told me and ran into the middle of the crosswalk. I helped push this car out of the crosswalk and into a neighboring parking lot. I am thankful to Mr. Moss Hills for teaching me that one shouldn’t pass up those who suffer but instead help them out, even if it throws us off schedule. Moss told me he doesn’t feel like a hero for what he did on the Oceanos but thinks anyone could have done what he did. Remember as you go throughout your life, that you have the power to accomplish great feats and miracles. If a simple guitarist on a sinking ship can help save over five hundred passengers from a watery grave, think of all that you can do!
Here is footage of the Oceanos making its final plunge:
The following photos below were used with the permission of Moss Hills who took many pictures on the Oceanos during its sinking. You can’t see the pictures in the e-mail version of my blog but you can on my online version.
Onboard the sinking Oceanos.
Being airlifted off the sinking Oceanos.
If you’d like to learn more about the Oceanos and the heroes who helped save all the passengers, check out this link that Moss Hills created: http://www.oceanossinking.com/