Four survive 32 days adrift in Pacific

WELLINGTON • Four people who survived a month adrift in the Pacific Ocean were recovering yesterday in the Solomon Islands, after an ordeal that claimed the lives of eight of their companions, including a baby, reports said.

The group, from Bougainville in Papua New Guinea, said they survived by eating coconuts found floating in the sea and drinking rainwater collected in a bowl during their 32 days adrift.

The Solomon Star News reported that the group had set off from Bougainville on Dec 22, intending to celebrate Christmas in the Carteret Islands, about 100km away.

But, survivor Dominic Stally said, their small boat capsized and a number of the group drowned.

The rest managed to right the vessel but there were further fatalities as they floated in the remote waters at the mercy of the ocean currents.

"We could do nothing with their dead bodies, we just had to let go of them at sea," he told the newspaper. "A couple have died and left behind their baby and I am the one who held on to the baby and later the baby died as well."

Mr Stally said a number of fishing vessels passed nearby without noticing them until they were finally picked up on Jan 23 off New Caledonia after drifting some 2,000km. The Star News said the survivors comprised two men, a woman and a girl aged about 12.

They were dropped off in Honiara last Saturday and left in the care of PNG High Commissioner John Balavu after receiving treatment for dehydration.

Epic tales of survival are not uncommon in the Pacific, where tiny islands are separated by vast expanses of ocean.

In 2014, Salvadoran fisherman Jose Salvador Alvarenga washed up in the Marshall Islands, more than 13 months after he set off from Mexico's west coast with a companion, who died during the voyage.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

TRAGIC

A couple have died and left behind their baby and I am the one who held on to the baby and later the baby died as well.

MR DOMINIC STALLY, one of the survivors.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2020, with the headline 'Four survive 32 days adrift in Pacific'. Print Edition | Subscribe