Tahitian man survives 133 days at sea

Friday, July 12th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) _ A Tahitian man who drifted for 133 days across the South Pacific was recovering in hospital in the Cook Islands Friday after his boat ran onto on a reef and he was found by local fishermen.

Raeoaoa Taurae, 55, ``looks like a prisoner of war,'' Mata Strickland, a doctor treating Taurae, told The Associated Press by telephone from Aitutaki, one of the northern Cook Islands.

He's ``thin, he's dehydrated, with sunken cheeks and sunken eyeballs and he has very loose skin,'' Strickland said.

Such tales of survival are not unknown in the South Pacific where fisherman often take to the high seas in small boats with unreliable engines.

Last November, two Western Samoan fishermen washed up in Papua New Guinea after surviving almost six months adrift in a small metal boat.

Two other men died during the torrid journey, which saw them drift nearly 2,480 miles west from Western Samoa to Papua New Guinea. The survivors said they caught fish and birds to eat and drank rainwater to stay alive.

Only one day after his voyage ended on the reef, Taurae was already taking semisolid food and trying to strengthen his legs after more than four months aboard his 25-foot boat.

``He's dying to have some meat and sausages,'' Strickland said. ``He's a strong man, a strong man, (even though) he's lost a lot of weight.''

Taurae told the doctor through an interpreter he had gone fishing on March 1 from his home village at Fa'a near the airport at Papeete, the capital of Tahiti, and more than 685 miles across open sea from Aitutaki.

After ``going a bit further out'' he ran out of gasoline.

Strickland said Taurae, with no motor, no sail and not even a paddle, had drifted helpless, rationing himself to a single glass of rainwater a day. He had eaten raw fish to stay alive.

``He came in here yesterday weak, dehydrated, wobbly legs. Police helped him into the hospital and when he tried to walk he almost fell over,'' he said.

After just one day of intravenous drip-feeding ``he managed to speak properly, weeping and thinking of his family and thanking god,'' Strickland added.

The doctor said the 55-year-old was expected to make a full recovery and should be ready to be discharged from the hospital within two days.

Police meantime had towed Taurae's boat to the local port and lifted it from the water for minor repairs.

``I wouldn't mind buying his boat,'' Strickland said.