This is just an amazing story of survival. The newspaper here runs the odd story about some Micronesians lost at sea, but never anything like this. These guys drifted from Mexico to Kiribati for over 9 months. I am flabbergasted. The story is from today’s Marianas Variety, a paper that doesn’t quite get the whole permalink URL idea. I will post the URL when the story is archived.
Mexican fishermen see land for 1st time in 295 days
By Giff Johnson
MAJURO â€” Three Mexican fishermen saw their first land in nearly 10 months today (Tuesday) after drifting across the Pacific Ocean since last October 28. After 13 days aboard a Marshall Islands fishing vessel since their rescue, the Mexican fishermen looked healthy, smiled often and talked about their ordeal in an on-board interview with AFP shortly before they arrived in Majuro, the capital of the Marshall Islands.
“When we first took them on board on August 9, they were very weak looking and their clothes were ripped,” said Marshall Islands fishing vessel crew member Lanpe Lejjiur. Chin-shui Yen, fishing master on “Kooâ€™s 102,” a Marshall Islands fishing vessel, picked up the drifting Mexican boat on his radar screen at about 4 pm on August 9.
When the Kooâ€™s crew visually spotted the small vessel, all they saw was a lifeless-appearing boat with a limp sail. “We could only see the sail on the boat,” said fisherman Ken Loran. “We thought there was no one on board.” But Lejjiur, who joined Loran in a small rescue boat dispatched from the Kooâ€™s vessel to check the other boat, said: “When we got closer, the three men suddenly jumped out of the front of their boat and started waving frantically at us.
In fact, even when we got up next to their boat they kept waving.”
Salvador Ordonez, 37, the oldest of the three Mexicans, said they were sleeping on the floor of their boat the afternoon of their rescue. Ordonez said he woke to the sound of a boat engine nearby and tried to wake the others. But after so many days drifting at sea, Lucio Rendon, 27, and Jesus Vidana Lopez, 27, werenâ€™t impressed.
“Itâ€™s just the noise of the wind,” they told Ordonez. But a few seconds later they sat up to find Kooâ€™s 102, a 72 meter, 1,100 gross ton purse seiner sitting just a few hundred meters away.
The Mexican trio said through an interpreter that they divided their time between reading the Bible and fishing on their epic trip across the Pacific in which two others died earlier this year.
“Two months after we started drifting, the two died,” said Ordonez. “They couldnâ€™t eat the raw fish and birds. They kept throwing up and eventually vomited blood.”
When the two men died, Ordonez said they threw the bodies overboard.
“We were lost for nine months and nine days,” said Lucio Rendon, 27. Pointing to his Casio wristwatch, Rendon said: “This watch was an incredible thing to have.”
At first they thought they would be rescued when they were still only days away from the west coast of Mexico. But they ran out of gas and none of the vessels that they saw in the distance saw them. They drifted until the Kooâ€™s vessel found them in the waters of Kiribati in the central Pacific.
“They were just skin and bones when we picked them up,” said Linter Lepan, another Kooâ€™s 102 fisherman.
The only equipment on board was shark fishing gear, according to Orodonez. But the hooks were too big to catch little fish, so they used wire on the boat to construct smaller hooks to catch fish during the voyage, he said. But it was hardly gourmet eating on the nine month drift.
“We spent most of the time reading the Bible,” said Lopez.
“Fishing and praying mostly. God really helped us because we were at sea for so long.”
But what really kept them eating was Ordonez, whom the others referred to as “El Gato” (the cat). He would creep along the bottom of the boat and catch birds that landed on the small boat. They would then eat the raw meat.
The worst time of the voyage was during December and January, when they were hit by big storms. “We were afraid we would sink,” Lopez said.
It was also a time of starvation. “The longest we went without food was about 13 days during that time when we had only one sea bird to eat,” Lopez said.
The rescue by Kooâ€™s 102 brought more good news than their own safety. After being picked up August 9, they telephoned their families and Lopez found out that he had a six-month-old baby girl who was born in San Blas while he was drifting.
Several Mexican television stations and newspapers were on hand to record the arrival in Majuro Tuesday of the three fishermen.
Two Mexican government officialsâ€”one from the embassy in New Zealand, which has jurisdiction for the Marshall Islands, and another from Mexico City â€” flew into Majuro to help process the three men. After the vessel docked, medical officials examined the three men, and shortly after they were whisked to the Majuro Hospital for further check ups.
The men arrived with no passports or proof of identity. Luis Enrique Franco, deputy head of mission in Mexicoâ€™s New Zealand Embassy, is providing them with passports. They hope to depart Wednesday night from Majuro to Honolulu.