Thu, Jul 15, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Australian kids survive sea ordeal

REUTERS , SYDNEY

Stephen Nona, left, his sister Norita, center, and his sister Ellis, right, are seen in an undated family handout photo.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Three Australian children survived for six days after their dinghy capsized off the country's north coast, swimming in shark-infested waters between tiny islands in search of food and water.

The children had been on a routine voyage with their parents and a young relative when the dinghy overturned off Australia's Cape York Peninsula on July 6. Their parents urged the children to swim to a rocky outcrop nearby while they stayed behind clinging to the boat.

"It was the last time we saw them," Stephen Nona, 12, told The Sydney Morning Herald.

The three children were rescued on Monday.

With no water on the outcrop, the children had to brave the sea to reach another island.

"We have to swim or we'll die," Stephen told his sisters Ellis, 15, and Norita, 10, as they stood on the barren outcrop.

"We swam all day. We started in the morning and we got to the big island in the afternoon. I found a coconut and skinned it with my teeth," Stephen was quoted by the newspaper as saying.

The Torres Strait Islander family had set out from their home on Badu Island in the Torres Strait to travel 60km to Thursday Island to attend a birthday party -- a routine journey for people who live on scattered islands between Australia's tropical north and Papua New Guinea.

But after 25km the dinghy's motor broke down. The children's father, an experienced seaman, repaired it but the anchor rope became entangled in the motor and the boat capsized.

Stephen, Ellis and Norita eventually made it to the island where, wet and frightened, they huddled together and scanned the sea for their parents. "We prayed to God to bring them, but they did not come," Stephen said.

The children stayed on the rocky outcrop for three days without fresh water. They drank small amounts of seawater and ate the few oysters they could break open with stones.

Last Friday, Stephen decided they must swim to another island if they were to survive.

After swimming all day they reached Matu Island, an atoll about the size of a football field with one coconut tree. The children had swum a total of about 4km through open sea from where their boat had capsized.

For the next three days and nights the children survived on five coconuts, eating coconut flesh and drinking coconut milk, and a few oysters, until they were rescued.

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