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Monday, 12 November, 2001, 18:22 GMT
Samoan fishermen survive epic drift voyage
Map of Southern Pacific
Two fishermen from Samoa in the South Pacific have survived a remarkable four months adrift at sea in a small metal boat.

The pair was rescued in Papua New Guinea - 4,000 km from their homes in Samoa.

A local doctor treating the two survivors said it was a miracle that they survived.

Two other men died of thirst and starvation during the ordeal.

The fishermen said their boat got into difficulties in late June off the coast of Western Samoa when they and their two colleagues caught a heavy load of fish, and the boat began to take water.

Samoan Lapahele Sopi survives four months at sea
Lapahele Sopi (centre): "I am very happy to be alive"

They managed to right the seven-metre aluminium dinghy by cutting away the fishing lines and two outboard motors - thus lightening the load - but were left powerless as currents pushed them out to the sea.

One of the fishermen, Lapahele Sopi, 36, told local media they survived by eating fish and drinking rainwater.

Mr Sopi and one of his companions, Telea Paa, were finally rescued after 132 days at sea by a villager in Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea, who paddled his canoe out to them after they had fired off their last flare.

He told them where they were and towed their boat to shore.

Their survival was just determination and basically doing the right thing, not drinking too much salt water

Dr Barry Kirby

Dr Barry Kirby from Alotau Hospital in eastern PNG said the two fishermen were extemely lucky to be alive.

"They suffered from exposure and were basically on a starvation diet", Dr Kirby told the news agency AP.

"One man is unable to walk....he's very, very wasted and was probably a week away from death. The other man was quite strong considering his ordeal."

Dr Kirby said both men were stable and recovering well.

Lapahele Sopi said during their torrid journey they saw ships, but were unable to attract their attention..

Close to Fiji

They had the bad luck to miss a host of islands between Samoa and their final destination.

"They were apparently pretty close to Fiji and they had some flares on board which they set off, but nobody came out to rescue them", Dr Kirby said.

Their endurance falls short of the longest known drift voyages.

According to the Guiness Book of Records, the record for drifting at sea is held by two Kiribati fishermen, from the atoll of Nikunau, who drifted for 177 days in 1992 before coming ashore on the eastern end of Samoa.

The book currently lists the longest solo survival as that of a Chinese man who survived aboard a raft for 133 days during the Second World War after his ship was torpedoed.

See also:

03 Aug 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Samoa
03 Sep 01 | Country profiles
Country Profile: Papua New Guinea
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