World

Philippine fisherman rescued after 58 days at sea

MANILA: A young fisherman flew home to the Philippines on Wednesday after being given up for dead at sea. He had battled hunger, thirst and despair for nearly two months on a tiny boat that drifted all the way to Papua New Guinea.

Mr Rolando Omongos, 21, recounted his tale of survival as he arrived on his first-ever plane ride at Manila airport, three weeks after being rescued by a Japanese fishing vessel.

"I cried non-stop when I was finally rescued. I was too weak to stand up and they had to carry me," he told reporters.

Mr Omongos said he survived by drinking rainwater and eating moss growing on the hull of his 2.5m-long boat, finding respite from the sun by diving into the water frequently.

His 31-year-old uncle Reniel Omongos, who was on a second small boat, died after a month.

Mr Omongos lashed his uncle's body on to his boat for a few days but later let it sink into the water when it began to smell.

The two men had set off on Dec 21 with other fishermen aboard a fishing boat from General Santos, a southern Philippine port facing the Celebes Sea.

The port lies more than 3,200km northwest of the Papua New Guinea island of New Britain, where the rescuers later dropped Mr Omongos off.

A storm separated Mr Omongos and his uncle from their mother boat on Jan 10, and they ran out of fuel five days later. They tossed their small boat engines overboard so they would float higher and avoid being swamped by huge waves.

Mr Omongos said passing ships failed to see their tiny vessels bobbing from 3-5km away.

"I never lost hope. I was always praying," he added. "I told myself, at least one of us had to get back home."

When the Japanese fishing vessel found him, Mr Omongos was weak and emaciated, having been reduced to eating moss once every few days. He was down to just over 20kg, from his original weight of 61kg.

Mr Omongos said he would never set foot on a boat again. - AFP

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