Mystery of Pole who built a raft of twigs – then set sail for Australia in a cyclone

‘Asylum seeker’ washes up in mangrove swamp after trying to cross from Papua New Guinea


His story raises more questions than it answers, but one thing seems certain: the man who sailed from Papua New Guinea to northern Australia on a raft of twigs and sticks – braving a cyclone and waters infested with crocodiles and sharks – is fortunate to be alive.

This courageous – or foolhardy, depending on your point of view – individual is believed to be Polish, and in his twenties. His name is reportedly Vazlavand. It is not clear what he was doing in Papua New Guinea, Australia’s northern neighbour. And his motive for crossing the treacherous Torres Strait? That is not yet clear, either, although – possibly – he was hoping to claim asylum.

Mr Vazlavand – we might as well call him that – washed ashore on Saibai Island, one of many pinpricks of land in the narrow, shallow strait. The island is only a few miles from Papua New Guinea but is in Australia’s territorial waters.

Alerted by Saibai residents, who spotted him on Thursday, Australian authorities dispatched a helicopter and customs ship. However, neither could find him, and it was local police who eventually discovered him, exhausted, in a mangrove swamp.

Although he had travelled only about five miles, conditions for sailing a home-made raft held together with string were not ideal, to say the least. The monsoon season is in full swing in northern Australia, and Cyclone Oswald had recently passed overhead. Our Pole (if he really is Polish) had to contend with five-foot swells and gusts of wind of up to 40 knots. “It’s the first time I’ve heard of someone trying to cross the Torres Strait in the middle of a cyclone,” Jo Meehan, a spokeswoman for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, told Agence France-Presse.

She added, somewhat understatedly: “It’s not something we’d recommend. Navigation in the area is quite challenging for normal vessels. It’s quite treacherous with reefs and rocks, and he did it in high winds and high seas. He’s very lucky to have made it.”

Australian immigration authorities are waiting to interview Mr Vazlavand, who has been transferred to a detention centre on Thursday Island, the main hub of the Torres Strait. He is receiving medical checks before being questioned about the trip, but he appears to be in good health. He had no possessions with him.

The man reportedly set off from Sigabadura village in Papua New Guinea, ignoring locals who tried to talk him out of attempting the crossing. Ms Meehan said he left at 3am on Thursday and was found at about 2pm. “I am genuinely surprised that he got there,” she told Australia’s ABC radio. “This is certainly a first for me.”

However, Mr Vazlavand is not the first person to survive the Torres Strait in an unusual vessel. In 2009 two Burmese men were found floating in the choppy waters in a giant icebox. They had been aboard a Thai fishing boat which sank, and had been adrift for 20 days, they claimed. The pair were eventually granted asylum.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Associate Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are seeking Associate Recruitm...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Software Engineer - PHP

£33000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Opilio Recruitment: Field Marketing Manage

£25k - 40k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Breakdown Engineers

£28000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Breakdown Engineer...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas