Men Who Spent 29 Days Lost at Sea Say It Was a Nice Break From the Pandemic

Kimbe Bay, Papua New Guinea

The two men were thrown far off course when they hit a patch of rough weather in their small, 60 horsepower motorboat. Photo by by wildestanimal, via Getty Images

Two men who spent 29 days lost at sea in the South Pacific were rescued some 400 kilometres from their point of origin earlier this month – having drifted all the way from their native Solomon Islands to the waters off the coast of Papua New Guinea. 

Livae Nanjikana and Junior Qoloni climbed into their small, 60 horsepower motorboat on the morning of September 3 and departed from Mono Island, in Western province, Solomon Islands. They were headed for the town of Noro on New Georgia Island, about 200 kilometres south, when inclement weather threw them off course and ultimately sent them in the opposite direction.

“We encountered bad weather that came with heavy rain, thick dark clouds and strong winds on our way,” Nanjikana told the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation. “Without seeing any island, we decided to stop the engine and just stay afloat, we still have some fuel left.”

For the first nine days the men sustained themselves on oranges they’d packed for the trip. Then, for the 20 days that followed, they lived off coconuts. Any time they saw coconuts floating in the sea, they’d start the boat’s engine and retrieve them, cutting them open using their anchor and a small axe. They used a piece of canvas to trap rain for drinking water, and after several days built a makeshift mast and sail, using paddles and canvas, and travelled “following the direction of the wind.”

After 29 days adrift, Nankijana and Qoloni finally spotted a fisherman off the coast of New Britain, Papua New Guinea. They were brought ashore and, too weak to walk, carried into the town of Pomio on October 2. The two men are now recovering in Papua New Guinea, waiting to be repatriated back home.

“We didn’t know where we were but did not expect to be in another country,” Nanjikana told The Guardian. While he described the event of becoming stranded as “scary”, however, Nankijana also suggested that his and Qoloni’s month at sea was, if nothing else, a nice break from the daily reality of a global pandemic and a good way to get away from it all.

“I had no idea what was going on while I was out there. I didn’t hear about COVID or anything else,” he said. “I look forward to going back home but I guess it was a nice break from everything.”

A little over a week later, two other men from the South Pacific nation of Kiribati were also rescued at sea after spending seven days adrift in a dinghy.

The I-Kiribati fishermen had departed the atoll of Tarawa on the afternoon of September 30, bound for Maiana Island just a few hours away. They disappeared and were found by a Federated States of Micronesia-flagged vessel in the waters of the Marshall Islands on Monday, after being located by the air crew of a Royal New Zealand Air Force plane that was searching an area spanning more than 18,900 square kilometres, according to Radio New Zealand.

Follow Gavin Butler on Twitter.

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