FIVE Papua New Guineans, who survived two months adrift at sea, could be repatriated home from Marshall Islands within a week, reports Radio Australia.
The group had been receiving medical treatment at a hospital in the capital Majuro, since they were rescued off the coast of Nauru the previous weekend.
They had been drifting for more than two months after running out of fuel on a short trip home from Tabar Island in New Ireland province, to Lihir Isand.
Doctors at the hospital, said the men arrived severely malnourished and suffering from exposure but were recovering.
The captain of US-flagged purse seiner Ocean Encounter, which saved the lives of the five men, said it was the most tragic and enduring rescue he had been involved in.
Capt Ben Maughan told Radio Australia’s Pacific beat programme that he was very proud of his crew.
Three of the eight drifters died before making it to Majuro.
The weekly Marshall Islands Journal reported that Clement Singazoa died shortly after being rescued on Nov 15, by the US-flagged purse seiner, while Samuel Savor died just hours before the Ocean Encounter arrived in Majuro last Tuesday.
The Journal said that 17-year-old Michael Kolvir was lost at sea on Nov 13, and is presumed dead.
“He was trying to dry his clothes off the side of the boat during high winds ,” Alex Kainank a fisherman from PNG aboard the Ocean Encounter who spoke at length to the survivors.
“When his clothes blew off the boat, he dived into the water to get them.
“But he had no strength to swim back and the men on the boat were too weak to help him.”
The Journal said the remains of the two men, who died on the fishing vessel, had been transferred to the Majuro Hospital morgue.
It said the Marshall Islands ministry of foreign affairs is making arrangements with PNG Government officials for the return home of the bodies, as well as the five survivors, when they are well enough to travel.
In related news from Radio Australia, the Embassy of Taiwan in Marshall Islands has issued the crew members of Ocean Encounter with a certificate of commendation.
They were issued with the certificate in recognition of their “selfless and distinguished efforts” in what the embassy describes as “a humanitarian rescue”.
The US Embassy in Majuro has also presented an award of excellence to the crew for their effort.
Meanwhile, questions remain about suggestions that other vessels may have spotted the drifting 7m boat but did not stop to help the Papua New Guinean men.
Capt Maughan said he was told by survivors that several ships did not stop to render aid.
He said the US Coastguard was looking into the matter.