Britons home after ordeal

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The Independent Online
THREE BRITISH backpackers who survived a shipwreck in the Pacific arrived home yesterday to an emotional welcome. Scott Prince, 19, Louis Pymar, 18, and Debbie Hayes, 24, spent five hours clinging to the wreck of their Fijian water taxi before starting an equally long swim to safety.

Only 15 lifejackets had been available for the 23 passengers on the boat, which sank on Monday. As night fell, the backpackers were among 13 who braved rough seas to reach shore. For fear of losing someone in the dark, they were allocated a number to call out at intervals. "I will never forget the number three for the rest of my life," said Ms Hayes.

The boat was taking tourists between the islands of Tavewa and Viti Levu. "The whole thing happened so quickly. We were trying to think when we would get rescued and we tried to all stay strong," said Mr Prince, from Feltwell, Norfolk. "We were in the water for five hours and then around 13 of us decided to swim."

Mr Pymar added: "We all had a number from one to 14 and kept calling them out through the night. It was important in the dark to stay together. We were looking to the stars for guidance and the islands to help us."

The group reached a deserted island, where they survived on coconuts before being picked up by a cruise ship.

Their fellow passengers were also found clinging to the boat's wreckage after a rescue operation. "We collapsed through exhaustion. No one could get any sleep that night and we tried to keep as warm as we could until we got picked up," said Mr Prince.

He was met by his mother, Jackie, father, Billy, and brother Gary at Heathrow airport yesterday.

His mother, who admitted she cried all the way to the airport, added: "They are alive and that is the main thing. We could have been here today waiting for a lot worse."