Tragedy at sea: eight dead and four rescued after 32 days adrift in South Pacific

Four people have been rescued after spending 32 days adrift in the South Pacific, after a tragic voyage that resulted in the deaths of eight of their fellow travellers, including a baby.

The group left Bougainville Island, east of the mainland of Papua New Guinea, on 22 December to travel the Carteret Islands 100 km away for Christmas celebrations, according to The Guardian.

However, their canoe, which was powered by an outboard motor, capsized en route. Some members of the group drowned, others were able to right the boat and bail water out of it.

The four survivors were picked up by a fishing boat on 23 January in New Caledonian waters, almost 2,000 km from where they set off. The group was looked after on the fishing vessel for about a week before being brought to the Solomon Islands, near Bougainville, for medical treatment.

Dominic Stally, one of the survivors, says their group saw other vessels during their month at sea, but were unable to signal them for help.

“Fishing boats passed us but were too far for them to notice us, we watched helplessly as they went past.”

The group used a container in the canoe that was used to bail water to capture rainwater and ate coconuts that were floating on the sea.

“The thirst was the most difficult thing to overcome but we were lucky because of the rains, imagine if there was no rain,” Stally says.

The Solomon Star reports that survivors included a woman, her 12-year-old daughter, and a man in his 20s, as well as Stally. They are all being treated at the National Referral Hospital in Honiara, the capital of Solomon Islands.

The nurse on duty at the hospital said the group was all badly dehydrated and traumatised.

Officials in the search and rescue division of the Solomon Islands Maritime Authority said incidents like this one were unfortunately common, particularly around the Christmas holidays as people travelled between islands. They said weather patterns and failure to properly check fuel supplies contributed to such tragedies.

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This article was written and/or edited by the UK-based MIN team.

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