Page last updated at 08:20 GMT, Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Burma fishermen in amazing escape

By Nick Bryant
BBC News, Sydney

Two fishermen from Burma float in an ice-box
The two men had been drifting for 25 days, officials say

Two Burmese fishermen have survived for almost a month in shark-infested waters by floating on a large ice box after their fishing boat sank.

The men, in their 20s, were spotted by an Australian coastal patrol aircraft at the weekend and winched to safety by a helicopter.

The fishing boat sank in heavy seas off the north coast of Australia 25 days ago, with the loss of 18 lives.

The survivors had no safety equipment and no means of communication.

Hungry and dehydrated

They survived by clinging to the ice-box that was about the size of a desk, according to officials from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (Amsa).

The monsoon season and recent cyclone storms in the region make their survival all the more remarkable, and Australian officials said it was amazing that the men were spotted in such a vast expanse of water.

Their ordeal began on 23 December, when their wooden fishing boat sank in heavy seas.

They were eventually spotted by the Australian coastal patrol plane, then rescued by a helicopter which flew them to Thursday Island, off northern Queensland.

Health officials said the pair were hungry and dehydrated, but were recovering well and had already been released from hospital.

They had gulped down water as soon as they were winched aboard the rescue helicopter.

The men will now be questioned by police and immigration officials who are keen to discover how they survived and what they did for food and water.

The men said they were the only crew members who managed to cling to a flotation device, and could not say precisely where their Thai-registered boat went down.

The Australian authorities have decided not to mount a search for any other possible survivors.

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