August 16, 2006
Mexico fishermen survive months at sea eating birds
By Gunther Hamm
SAN BLAS, Mexico -- Three Mexican fishermen have been rescued after drifting for about nine months across thousands of miles of the Pacific Ocean in a small boat, an ordeal they survived by eating raw birds and fish and drinking rain water.The shark fishermen said on Wednesday they left their home town of San Blas on Mexico's Pacific coast in November and were blown 5,000 miles off course after their 25-foot (8-meter) fiberglass boat ran out of gas and they were left to the mercy of the winds and the tides.
Their families had given them up for dead, but they found a way to survive in what appeared to be one of the most impressive feats of endurance on the high seas.
"We ate raw fish, ducks, sea gulls. We took down any bird that landed on our boat and we ate it like that, raw," Jesus Vidana, one of the three survivors, said in a Mexican radio interview from the ship that rescued them.
The news stunned friends and relatives.
"It's truly a miracle. Everyone is very happy," said Jose Guadalupe Guerra, a town hall official in San Blas.
"Everyone found out from the television. A cousin of one of them fainted from the shock. His grandfather also got very emotional -- they'd written them off as dead," he said.
The odyssey finally ended when Vidana and the other two men, identified as Salvador Ordonez and Lucio Rendon, were rescued a week ago by a Taiwanese tuna fishing trawler in waters between the Marshall Islands and Kiribati.
"They were very skinny and very hungry," Eugene Muller, manager of the fishing firm that found them, said on Wednesday.
NEVER GAVE UP
The three men were sunburned but otherwise in good health. Vidana said they always believed they would be found.
"We never lost hope because we were always seeing boats. They passed us by, but we kept on seeing them. Every week or so, sometimes we'd go a month without seeing one, but we always saw them so we never lost hope," he said.
They were lucky to be picked up in the end because they were fast asleep and only noticed the rescue boat was coming for them when they heard its engine.
Details of the extraordinary journey were sketchy. First reports said they were lost for three months but relatives confirmed Vidana's version that they left nine months ago.
"I lived so sad. ... Now that I know my grandson is alive, I am very happy. I just want him to come home soon," Rendon's grandmother, Francisca Perez, told the Televisa news station.
"There are no words to express it. The emotion here is very strong because we thought they were dead," said Efrain Partida, a fellow fisherman in San Blas, which was once a Spanish port and is known for its bird life, tropical jungle and voracious mosquitoes and sand flies.
Mexico is sending an official to meet the survivors in the Marshall Islands and help bring them home when the trawler that picked them up returns to port in a couple of weeks.
San Blas is home to thousands of fishermen and many have battered old boats without radios or life-saving gear, Guerra said. "The fishermen here are very rudimentary. Most don't comply with navigation rules and the authorities don't demand it either."
Among other recorded cases of people surviving long periods stranded at sea, in 1942 a Chinese sailor named Poon Lim survived four months alone in the South Atlantic after a German U-boat torpedoed the British merchant ship he was working on.
In 1789, British Vice Adm. William Bligh was set adrift after the famous mutiny on "The Bounty," a merchant ship he commanded. He and 18 loyal crew members then made an impressive six-week journey to safety in Timor.
(Additional reporting by Paul Tait in Sydney and Catherine Bremer in Mexico City)