Five fishermen cast adrift in the South China Sea after a giant marlin sank their boat have been rescued by the US Navy.
The USNS Wally Schirra was on a routine operation when it spotted the distressed fishermen on a makeshift raft on Monday evening, it was announced today (Wednesday, October 10).
“Luckily, we were going at a slow enough speed to have spotted the fishermen,” said civilian mariner Captain Keith Sauls, the cargo ship’s master.
“The individuals were waving their arms and a flag in the air. They were also flashing a white light that was previously thought to be a fishing buoy. The watch officer notified me, then the chief mate of a possible rescue situation.”
The US ship deployed a rigid-hulled inflatable boat and the fishermen swam towards it and were helped aboard.
They told their rescuers how their boat sank a week ago, on Wednesday, October 3, after the hull was punctured by the bill of a blue marlin. The men estimated the fish to be six-feet long and about 200 pounds in weight.
Marlin ‘chasing smaller fish’ and ‘disoriented’
Speaking to reporters today, the master of the vessel Jimmy Batiller said: “The fish hit the bottom of our boat, leaving two big holes. We suspect it was chasing a smaller fish. It swam around the sinking boat for a while, apparently disorientated.”
The fishermen used their 36-foot long boat’s outriggers, planks and barrels to create a makeshift raft before the vessel sank.
“Our water ran out after two days. We waved at passing commercial vessels but no one came to rescue us. But we did not lose hope,” 42-year-old Mr Batiller said.
“When we were rescued, that was when our tears fell.”
The US Navy said the men were lucky to have survived, especially because they had been drinking seawater.
Leon Hadley, the civilian chief mate of the US ship, said: “On average, death results two to three days after a diet of drinking undiluted sea water or urine in survival-at-sea events as it takes more water than is consumed for the body to process the waste and salt out of the kidneys.”
The fishermen were given an initial medical assessment before being handed over to the Philippine Coast Guard after the US Navy received clearance to enter Subic Bay.
The blue marlin is one of the ocean’s fastest predators and is among the largest species of bony fish. It can grow up to 15 feet in length and weigh as much as 1,800 pounds, or nearly a ton.
Filipino fishermen have previously defied the odds to survive being cast adrift.
In March last year, for example, we reported on the case of 21-year-old Rolando Omongos, who survived for two months on the high seas.
He described how he drank rainwater and ate moss growing on the hull of his eight-foot long boat, finding relief from the blazing sun by dipping himself into the water. His 31-year-old uncle Reniel, who was on a second small boat, died after a month of the ordeal.