Thursday, November 19, 2009

Men adrift at sea for two months

Five men from Papua New Guinea are recovering in hospital after spending more than two months adrift in the Pacific Ocean surviving on a diet of driftwood and coconut shells.

Eight members of an extended family, most of them in their late teens, were left at the mercy of the seas and the elements after their 22-foot boat ran out of fuel on a trip to a neighbouring island. After finally being rescued near Nauru by a US fishing vessel two of them died from severe malnutrition before the captain could reach medical aid. Survivors said a 15-year-old boy had drowned after jumping overboard to rescue clothing that had blown away.

One of the five survivors, Nick Sales, 29, who was being treated in hospital in Majuro in the Marshall Islands, said the men had collected rainwater to supplement their drastic rations during their ordeal.

"When we ran out of food we began to collect driftwood and coconuts that we found floating in the ocean," he said.

"We would dry the wood in the sun and eat it. If we had coconuts, we would break them open, drink the juice and eat the meat inside.

"Then we would dry the coconut husk and eat that too," he said, adding they also occasionally were able to catch crabs.

Throughout the ordeal the devout Catholics prayed constantly to find comfort and maintain their sanity, he said.

"We lost the youngest when he jumped into the water to recover his shirt," said Mr Sales.

"It was windy and the current was strong and it wasn't long before he was too far to swim back to the boat," he said, adding the men on the boat were too weak to help.

Four of the emaciated survivors were carried off the fishing vessel Ocean Encounter on stretchers when it arrived in Majuro.


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