A South African navy diver said the captain of the sunken Greek liner Oceanos pushed past elderly passengers to be winched off the sinking deck on the first helicopter.

As Captain Yiannis Avranas testified before a South African marine inquiry Wednesday, the Durban Daily News quoted navy diver Paul Whiley as saying the captain had insisted on being among the first to be rescued."I placed an old lady in one strop and the captain approached me and demanded to be winched up next," said Whiley, who was lowered to the ship Sunday to help rescue about 170 people still on board. Four hundred others had already escaped in lifeboats.

"I thought I must have misunderstood him and explained our system was to airlift women and elderly people first.

"I turned to find another elderly passenger and when I turned back he was already in strops being winched up," Whiley said.

Avranas has said he left the ship while passengers were still on board to coordinate rescue efforts from shore.

But passengers from the Oceanos, which went down in a force nine gale less than a mile from the rocky Transkei coast, have accused him of abandoning them to their fate.

His British-born wife, Devina, said Avranas gave evidence to a transport department inquiry Wednesday and she was confident he would be vindicated.