A ONE-YEAR-OLD toddler is among a family of six from New Ireland province who survived 28 days adrift in the Pacific Ocean after their boat bound for Tabar Island strayed off course on Aug 24.
Nerolyn Timi and her five-year-old sister Bonita, mum Agesta and dad Emmanuel, along with two other relatives, all from Tabar Island, were returning home from a feast at neighbouring Tanga Island in their 40ft dinghy when they drifted off course.
The family was spotted on Sept 22 by the crew of a Chinese fishing fleet, the Zhong Tai No. 1 and Zhong Tai No. 2, who radioed for help and took them to safety to the nearby Federated States of Micronesia (FSM).
The family took refuge at Pohnpei, FSM, for a week until arrangements were made by Minister for Foreign Affairs, Trade and Immigration, Sam Abal, and the FSM foreign ministry for their return home to PNG.
Mr Abal said the Australian government, through its embassy and consular representatives in Pohnpei, the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) also assisted the PNG Government in the exercise. All six survivors were in good shape when they were met by reporters at the airport yesterday, speaking of their ordeal before catching a domestic flight out to their home province.
“On our way to Tabar Island, we encountered strong winds with rain and rough waves, and soon lost our way,” Ms Agesta said.
“We knew instantly that we were lost when we lost sight of the islands, but we were not scared because we held on to the hope that we would still find our way home,” she added.
She said they were also lucky because they had brought with them food from the feast.
“We survived on raw rice and dry biscuits 28 days out in the open seas,” Ms Agesta said, adding that drinking water was collected from rain using a canvas.
She said she saved the biscuits for her two daughters while they had raw rice which they poured into a water container to make it soft, before eating it.
The survivors expressed their gratitude to the Chinese crew who rescued them and the governor of Pohnpei, John Ehsa, who accommodated them and provided them food at his hotel during their stay.
Mr Abal also thanked Mr Ehsa for taking care of the survivors and the Chinese fishing vessels, Zhong Tai No. 1 and Zhong Tai No. 2, for rescuing the family.