Fri, Aug 18, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Fishermen in nine-month sea ordeal

SURVIVORS Three Mexicans rescued by a Taiwanese boat after a nine-month ordeal across the Pacific are being taken to the Marshall Islands so they can return home

AGENCIES , MAJURO, MARSHALL ISLANDS, MEXICO CITY AND SAN BLAS, MEXICO

Mexican Jesus Vidana poses with his wife, Rosa Maria Lopez and their baby in Culiacan, Mexico, in this undated photo.

PHOTO: AP

Three Mexican fishermen who drifted 8,000km across the Pacific Ocean in a nine-month odyssey -- and who were given up for dead by their families -- are expected back on dry land on Tuesday, after the owner of the Taiwanese fishing boat that rescued the trio ordered the vessel to return to port early so the men could go home, a company manager yesterday.

The three men had been expected to remain on the fishing boat for up to two weeks longer after their rescue near the Marshall Islands on Aug. 9, Koo's Fishing Co manager Eugene Muller said.

But company owner Koo Kwang-ming (辜寬敏), a former senior adviser to President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), has ordered the boat to return to the Marshall Islands capital Majuro straightaway following the three men's amazing ordeal.

"He phoned me and said these guys have been lost at sea for so long, we should get them back home as soon as possible," Muller said.

"The fishing boat will lose money by stopping its fishing trip but Mr Koo wants to get the fishermen home," he added.

Salvador Ordonez Vasques, Jesus Eduardo Vidana Lopez and Lucio Randon Bacerra from the Pacific port of San Blas in central Mexico were "skinny and hungry" but otherwise healthy when picked up from their disabled outboard fishing boat, Muller said earlier.

Muller said the three men have gained weight since being picked up by the tuna fishing boat.

An official from the Mexican embassy in New Zealand will be flying to Majuro over the weekend to help the fishermen return home, he added.

The news of the trio's survival stunned friends and relatives.

"It's truly a miracle. Everyone is very happy," said Jose Guadalupe Guerra, an official in San Blas.

"Everyone found out from the television. A cousin of one of them fainted from the shock. His grandfather also got very emotional -- they'd written them off as dead," he said.

Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez told reporters on Wednesday that he was surprised by reports of the fishermen's Aug. 9 rescue near the Marshall Islands, 8,800km from Mexico's Pacific coast.

"The truth is that it really was a surprise, and it was a surprise for everybody, because there hadn't been any report that they were missing," Derbez said.

Derbez said Mexican authorities would be on hand to issue them passports so that they can return to Mexico, once they arrive in the Marshall Islands.

The trio survived by eating raw fish and seagulls, drinking rainwater and keeping desperation at bay by reading the Bible.

"We thought about death a lot but we never lost hope," Salvador Ordonez told Mexican television in a telephone interview from the tuna fishing boat that rescued the three men last week.

Ordonez, Vidana and Rendon said they set off on Oct. 28 from the sleepy fishing and tourist town of San Blas in the Pacific coastal state of Nayarit. The three men, all in their 20s, were intending to catch some shark in deep water and had taken only a few days of food and water on board their 9m boat with two outboard motors.

Everything was going normally until they had problems with their fishing equipment. Then they ran out of fuel.

"The wind started taking us," Ordonez said, remembering the Marias Islands penal colony (itself some 80km from the mainland) slowly disappearing on the horizon.

"Day after day we saw the islands getting further away and that was a terrible moment. To see them there and not have the fuel to get to them," he said.

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