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Adrift on the Pacific for 50 days – and it was all down to love

Love – fuelled by copious amounts of alcohol – sparked an ill-fated voyage by three teenagers who were rescued last week after drifting for 50 days in the South Pacific.

The boys, from the New Zealand territory of Tokelau, fell for a girl who visited their coral atoll, Atafu, for a sports tournament. After she left, they drowned their sorrows under a coconut palm and then decided to steal a boat and sail to her atoll, Fakaofo, 125 miles to the south.

The three – Samuel Perez and Filo Filo, both 15, and Edward Nasau, 14 – grabbed a sack of coconuts, some beers and a tank of fuel, according to New Zealand newspaper, The Dominion Post. But their 12ft (3.7m) aluminum craft quickly ran out of petrol, and after drifting for more than 800 miles, they had almost given up hope when they were picked up by a tuna trawler last Wednesday.

The teenagers were taken to the Fijian capital, Suva, where they were treated in hospital and said to be in remarkably good health, apart from being dehydrated and severely sunburnt. Speaking from his hospital bed, Edward Nasau said they ate flying fish that jumped into their boat and, on one occasion, a seagull. "We prayed every day that someone will find us and rescue us," he told Associated Press. "We thought we would die."

It was a fluke that they were eventually spotted: a New Zealand Air Force plane had found no trace of them. The fishing vessel was in remote seas, well off its established route, having decided to take a shortcut home to New Zealand. The crew were surprised to come across a small boat – and amazed when they saw three bedraggled youths waving frantically.

On Atafu, where memorial services had already been held for the trio, relatives were overjoyed to hear they were alive – though when the boys called home they did so with trepidation, expecting to be in trouble for borrowing the boat without permission. "It's a miracle," Filo's father, Tanu Filo, told Radio New Zealand. "The whole village... they were so excited and cried and sang songs and hugged each other. Everybody was yelling and shouting the good news."

Just 500 people live on Atafu, one of three atolls that make up the tiny, devoutly Christian territory of Tokelau (population 1,400). Kuresa Nasau, a cousin of the teenagers, said nobody saw them leave on 5 October, but it would not have been thought unusual. "Young kids go out fishing all the time; nobody questions that," he said.

Fakaofo is an eight-hour sail from Atafu, but the boys were on a mission – inspired, perhaps, by tales of their ancestors. The folklore of the South Pacific is full of stories of lovers undertaking epic voyages and of people swimming between islands on romantic quests.

Very quickly, though, the teenagers ran out of food, and were forced to drink rainwater which formed puddles in their boat during overnight downpours. Day after day, as the tropical sun beat down, they scoured the horizon for signs of land or a passing boat. Once they spotted lights and saw a big ship. "But it was too far, we couldn't do anything," recalled Edward. "So we just sat down and looked at it."

Filo said: "We were scared, and praying was the only thing that kept us occupied every day. We managed to catch a few flying fish... [and also] a seagull, which we saw on the boat."

The teenagers were expected to be flown to Samoa today, where they hope to pick up a ferry home.