Teens adrift at sea almost lost hope

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SUVA, Fiji (AP) — For more than 50 days, the three boys slurped rainwater that puddled in the bottom of their tiny boat, gobbled flying fish that leaped aboard and prayed for salvation.

Etueni Nasau and his two cousins almost gave up hope they would survive as they bobbed in their aluminum dinghy across the South Pacific for more than seven weeks, before a fishing trawler spotted them by chance and brought an end to their extraordinary ordeal.

“I thank God for keeping us alive all this while, while were drifting out in open sea,” Nasau, 14, told the Associated Press. “We prayed every day that someone will find us and rescue us. We thought we would die.”

In a shy, quiet voice, Nasau spoke Saturday from his hospital bed in Fiji, where the trio were brought a day earlier and quickly treated for dehydration, bad sunburn and malnourishment.

Nasau, also known as Edward, and his two 15-year-old cousins, Samuel Pelesa and Filo Filo, jumped into the 12-foot- (3.5-meter-) long boat, known locally as a “tinnie,” sometime in late September — Nasau couldn’t remember the date — to make what they thought was a short journey between islands in their archipelago home of Tokelau.

But they ran out of fuel for their outboard motor and began drifting out to sea. As land retreated from sight, they contemplated the handful of coconuts they had brought with them to snack on — and the little else in the boat.

Day after day, the teens sat helpless in the open craft under a beating tropical sun, scouring the horizon for signs of land or a passing boat.

On many nights, rainstorms churned the sea and lashed the boat. The boys threw themselves to the bottom of the boat, clutching the sides and trying to keep it from capsizing. Though terrifying, the storms also brought a lifeline: puddles of rainwater for them to sip.

They ran out of food all too quickly, and increasingly feared starvation. The sea provided meager pickings in the form of fish that leaped out of the water and sometimes landed in the boat.

“We ate flying fish, very small ones that jump into our boat, about five inches,” said Nasau, looking thin and weak, but relieved. “The last time we ate one was last week if I recall.”

Once, a bird perched on the boat and Pelesa managed to snatch it with his bare hands. The hungry boys tore at the bird and shared the meat, raw.

“The bird came to our punt and my cousin Sam grabbed it,” Nasau said. “We ate it.”

In the days before their rescue, the nighttime storms stopped and the boys became desperately thirsty. They began drinking small amounts of sea water.

One night, the boys’ hopes for rescue soared when they spotted lights they thought must be a ship, then plunged again when they realized that they had no light and that those on board would never see them in the dark.

“We saw one big ship at night time but it’s too far, we couldn’t do anything,” Nasau said. “So we just sat down and looked at it” as it passed by.

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