Fishermen found alive after drifting in Pacific for a year

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Fishermen love to tell tales - some that push the bounds of credibility. But the story that three Mexican fishermen discovered drifting in the Pacific told their rescuers was remarkable even by those standards.

After having engine problems soon after they left their home port, it seems the men were steadily pushed west across the ocean and were lost for 11 months. They apparently survived on a diet of rainwater, raw fish and seabirds. "We fished, and we ate the fish raw ... because there was no fire to cook with," Jesus Vidana, 27, told Mexico's Televisa news network.

Speaking through the communications system of the tuna trawler which found them, he added: "We never lost hope because there is a God up there. Our feet are swollen, our arms are swollen, but we're not in that bad a shape."

The fisherman left San Blas, 400 miles from Mexico City, on 9 October last year. They were found close to the Marshall Islands, 5,500 miles to the west.

Eugene Muller, of Koo's Fishing Co, which owns the Taiwanese-crewed fishing vessel that found the men on 9 August, said the men were now being returned to Majuro, capital of the Marshall Islands. He said it would probably take 10 to 14 days to transport them.

Speaking from the Marshall Islands, Mr Muller told the Associated Press: "Their two motors had been dismantled, and it seemed they were trying to swap parts to get one working.

"[Our fishing vessel's captain said] they were very skinny and they were very hungry. The first thing we did, we gave them something to eat and they chowed down."

Reports said that two other crew members had jumped overboard and presumably perished soon after they encountered engine problems.

The survivors said they read the Bible as their 27ft fibreglass boat drifted. At least once they had to endure more than two weeks without food but there was drinking water because it rained every day. "Sometimes our stomachs would hurt, because we would go up to 15 days without eating," said Mr Vidana. "There were times when we had only one bird to share among the three of us."

Another survivor, Salvador Ordonez, said the ship had flashlights and a compass but no radio. "I knew I was going to live, that I wasn't going to die," he said.

The third fisherman, Lucio Rendon, said: "We didn't see any ships for months. [Now] we're recovering, sleeping a lot, and eating well."

There was no confirmation of the men's story and obtaining further details has been hampered by language difficulties between the Mexicans and the crew of the tuna vessel.

Reports said some relatives in San Blas and nearby villages had started saying prayers designed to help the dead find their way to heaven. Saul Ordonez, a cousin of two of the men, from the hamlet of El Limon, told The Los Angeles Times: "I'm trembling all over and I think I'm going to have a heart attack. They went fishing and they never came back. We thought they were dead."

Officials from the Marshall Islands government have contacted Mexico's embassy in New Zealand to arrange for the return of the fishermen.