T arawa, Kiribati ... [ANN] Five Seventh-day Adventist nationals from Papua New Guinea (PNG) have been rescued and flown back to their home in PNG from Tarawa, Kiribati, after drifting in their canoe without food and water for two months and three days. A sixth man died from starvation and exposure and was buried at Tarawa last month by the Seventh-day Adventist minister, Biribo Kabaneiti.

The incredible voyage began when six young men from Emira Island (in the St Matthias group), PNG, set out from Kavieng (New Ireland Province), on Aug. 17, 1997 in their small boat to return home. They thought they had sufficient fuel for the journey, but they encountered strong winds and rough seas. When their outboard motor sputtered and stopped they paddled but could not make any headway against the heavy seas. They drifted helplessly on the open sea.

A piece of canvas became their shelter and caught rainwater for drinking. After the fourth day they ran out of food. Raw fish made them sick so they flattened a tin, cut their rubber thongs into strips and made a fire to cook the fish. Every day they prayed - for rescue, for fish (they caught over 300), and for coconuts. On 19 days of their ordeal, they fished a coconut out of the sea, far from sight of land.

On Saturday, Oct.18, two months after they had left Kavieng, Cleveland Kolivos died. Joses Karike, Vincent Benny, Titus Lauvos, Grosby Ume and Donald James were too weak to move. They closed their eyes and slept. Three hours later, the Evelina de Rosa, a US fishing vessel from American Samoa, came towards them. A look-out, searching for fish, saw someone waving from the boat, though the men say they were asleep. The fishing vessel pulled alongside and woke them.

The Samoan seamen took care of the men on the 200 mile trip to Tarawa, Kiribati, where they received medical help. The Kiribati Department of Foreign Affairs took the five survivors into care in a Tarawa Hotel, until they were well enough to return to Papua New Guinea. Adventist Church members in Tarawa welcomed their fellow believers, providing food and clothing, and grieving with them as they buried Cleveland. The drifters flew home to Papua New Guinea on Nov. 7, almost three months after their voyage began.

[Ray Coombe]