WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Three teenagers survived 50 days adrift in a tiny boat in the South Pacific by drinking rainwater and eating raw fish and a seagull before being rescued by a passing trawler, a senior crewman on the fishing vessel said.
The trio — Samuel Pelesa and Filo Filo, both 15, and Edward Nasau, 14 — had been given up for dead on their coral atoll in the Tokelau islands, where a memorial service was held for them after extensive searches failed to find them.
The boys set off on Oct. 5 in their aluminum dinghy from their home island to one nearby. It's not known how they went missing, but the outboard motor on their boat may have broken down at sea.
Worried family members reported them missing and the New Zealand air force launched a sea search. No sign of the tiny boat was found.
On Wednesday, the tuna boat San Nikuna spotted a small dinghy bobbing in the open sea northeast of Fiji, with three people aboard waving frantically, said first mate Tai Fredricsen. They had drifted 800 miles from where they set out.
"We saw a small vessel, a little speedboat on our bows, and we knew it was a little weird," Fredricsen said.
The fishing boat pulled up alongside the smaller vessel and asked the teenagers if they needed any help, to which they readily replied that they did.
"All they could say was 'thank you very much for stopping,' " Fredricsen told New Zealand's National Radio on Thursday by phone from the ship. "In a physical sense, they look very physically depleted, but mentally — very high."
The teens and their boat were hauled aboard the fishing trawler, which was on its way to Fiji today where it would deliver the trio for medical care.
Fredricsen said the boys were dehydrated, sunburned and very thin, but otherwise seemed well. The tuna boat's crew gave them small portions of fruit and fluids.
The teens were able to telephone home from the San Nikuna, where one of them spoke to his grandmother and gave them the news that they were alive.
"It's a miracle, it's a miracle," said Tanu Filo, the father of Filo Filo. "The whole village, the whole village, they were so excited and cried and they sang songs and were hugging each other. Everybody was yelling and shouting the good news," he told Radio New Zealand International.