Wednesday 24 January 2018

'Miracle' teens survived on coconuts and raw fish

Pita ligaiula in Suva, Fiji

THREE teenage boys who spent 50 days adrift in a tiny boat in the South Pacific walked ashore on shaky legs yesterday after their chance rescue -- as people on their home island hundreds of miles away celebrated ''the miracle''.

The trio, Samuel Pelesa and Filo Filo, both 15, and Edward Nasau, who is 14, told rescuers they survived on rainwater they collected, a handful of coconuts, raw fish and a seagull that landed on their 12-foot-long aluminum boat.

The boys set off on October 5 from their home island to one nearby. It's not known how they went missing, but the outboard motor may have broken down at sea.

Worried family members reported them missing and the New Zealand air force launched a sea search. No sign of the tiny boat was found, and the village of 500 people held memorial services, expecting never to see the boys again.

They were picked up on Wednesday by a fishing trawler, undernourished, severely dehydrated and badly sunburned, but otherwise well. The ship's first mate said the area they were in is way off any normal commercial shipping routes.

They drifted 800 miles after they set out from Tokelau, a bucolic collection of atolls north of Samoa.

A Fiji navy patrol boat met the trawler yesterday and escorted it into the harbour of its capital, Suva. The teens were taken directly to a hospital for medical checks. Looking thin, the three walked off the boat without speaking to reporters.

Tai Fredricsen, first mate aboard the tuna boat San Nikuna, said a crew member spotted a small vessel bobbing in the open sea northeast of Fiji on Wednesday. "We knew it was a little weird," he said.

As it edged closer, the crew saw three people aboard waving frantically and asked them if they needed help.

"All they could say was 'thank you very much for stopping,"' Mr Fredricsen told New Zealand's National Radio.

After the rescue, one of the boys managed to reach his grandmother by phone from the fishing boat. As news of the rescue spread, the village erupted in joy.

"It's a miracle, it's a miracle," said Tanu Filo, the father of Filo Filo. "The whole village, they were so excited and cried and they sang songs and were hugging each other in the road. Everybody was yelling and shouting the good news."

The rescue came not a moment too soon: the boys had begun to drink sea water because it hadn't rained in the past few nights.

Irish Independent

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