After spending 29 days floating out in the open sea and 400 kilometres away from where they began their journey, two men from the Solomon Islands were rescued by fishermen in Papua New Guinea in an epic story of survival and resilience.
Livae Nanjikana and Junior Qoloni, who are currently safe in Pomio District in the West New Britain Province of Papua New Guinea, called the adventure a “nice break from everything.”
The GPS tracking device on their small, single 60 horsepower motorboat stopped working after they left for their voyage from the Mono Island in the Western province of the Solomon Islands on 3 September.
The trip was supposed to end at Noro in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands, about 200 kilometres to the town of Noro on New Georgia Island.
Mr Nanjikana told the local Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC) that “we have done the trip before and it should have been OK.”
He added, however, “we encountered bad weather that came with heavy rain, thick dark clouds and strong winds on our way, for about an hour.”
Soon, their GPS tracker’s battery died and because of the bad weather, it was hard to see the coastline they were supposed to be following during this trip, so navigation became difficult.
SIBC reported that the two adventurers then decided to stop as night was approaching.
“When the bad weather came, it was bad, but it was worse and became scary when the GPS died,” Mr Nanjikana said. “We couldn’t see where we were going and so we just decided to stop the engine and wait to save fuel.”
For the next nine days, the two survived on the oranges they had got from Mono.
When they ran out of oranges, they managed to survive “only on rainwater and coconuts and our faith in God because we prayed day and night,” Mr Nanjikana told the local SIBC.
The two trapped rainwater by using a canvas and when they found coconuts floating in the sea, they would start the engine and drive towards it.
On the 27th day since they had left on the voyage, they saw an island in the distance. They were in Papua New Guinea territory.
Mr Nanjikana said: “We didn’t know where we were but did not expect to be in another country.”
On the evening of the 29th day, they made it close to the island. By then, only a little fuel was left in the fuel tank of their boat as well.
Mr Nanjikana recounted seeing a fisherman in his wooden canoe at a distance. “It was then that we shouted and continually waved our hands to the fisherman that he saw us and paddled towards us.” He added: “When he reached us, we asked, where are we now? And he replied, PNG, ohhh we are now safe.”
The fisherman took the two men to a health centre at Pomio to receive medical treatment.
“The fisherman was a nice man. When we reached land, our bodies felt weak so we were carried by men to the house. We were later fed with good foods such as taro, pawpaw and other vegetables which made us regain our strength.”
Recounting the experience, Mr Nanjikana said: “I had no idea what was going on while I was out there. I didn’t hear about Covid or anything else. I look forward to going back home but I guess it was a nice break from everything.”
Mary Walenenea, the chief desk officer for the Solomon Islands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade based in Papua New Guinea, told the Guardian that they are in contact with Mr Nanjikana. They ensured that all necessary arrangements shall be made so that the men can go home safely.
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