Islanders search for castaways' relatives

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The Independent Online

The official search is over but yesterday the people of a small island in Australia's Torres Strait put to sea in dinghies in a desperate attempt to find the parents and brother of three children who survived for six days on rocky outcrops, eating coconuts, oysters and fruit.

The official search is over but yesterday the people of a small island in Australia's Torres Strait put to sea in dinghies in a desperate attempt to find the parents and brother of three children who survived for six days on rocky outcrops, eating coconuts, oysters and fruit.

Islanders refused to give up hope of finding Pastor Naseli Nona, his wife Dosena and three-year-old Clarence, after the family's boat capsized in choppy seas between Badu island and Thursday island, off Queensland's northern tip, en route to a birthday party on Tuesday last week.

The adults clung to Clarence and shouted to the three other children - Stephen, 12, and his sisters, Ellis, 15, and Norita, 10, to swim to a rocky outcrop a mile away. As they swam off, they looked back and saw their parents and little brother drifting into the distance, sharing one lifejacket.

The trio swam through shark-infested waters to deserted Matu island where they were rescued on Monday. They had spent their first three days huddled on a barren outcrop without fresh water.

"We'll have to swim or die," Stephen had told his sisters, advising them to swim "quietly" so as not to attract sharks. "When they got tired, I swam behind, pushing them along."

As the official search was called off, the children's aunt, Wendy Phineasa, said Badu islanders were still scouring the area in eight dinghies, yelling their names.

The three children suffered only dehydration and sunburn. Ms Phineasa said: "We teach all our children survival skills on the islands. It's like teaching city kids to cross the road."

The alarm was not raised until the family failed to return to Badu by Monday.

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