11 missing people found alive at sea by Udu Villagers Eleven people, who were reported missing on Christmas day, were on to their last bottle of Fiji Water when they
28 Dec 2017 12:00

11 missing people found alive at sea by Udu Villagers

Eleven people, who were reported missing on Christmas day, were on to their last bottle of Fiji Water when they were found yesterday.

For three days and three nights, the 11 drifted on the high seas around the islands of Moala, Matuku and Totoya.

They survived on the food rations destined for a Christmas feast at Tovu Village on Totoya Island. Visibly shaken and thirsty they were rescued by Udu villagers.

As they disembarked the fibre glass boat, they were greeted with coconut juice and water from Udu villagers.

The 11 include three children, three women and five men.

An Australian from Sydney by the name of Jeff is believed to be one of the passengers.

Yesterday the children were treated for high fevers at the Tovu Health Centre. The adults suffered from sunburn.

Udu Village headman Nete Davobalavu said they had lost hope of finding the missing people and they were already in mourning.

“We had no hope that they would survive,” Mr Davobalavu said.

He said they were shocked yesterday morning when they saw a fibre-glass boat with a sail crossing the reef.

“Two fibre glass boats were immediately dispatched to help and they found out they were the missing passengers who were bound for Tovu Village,” Mr Davobalavu said.

“They were taken to the village hall where they were accorded a traditional welcome ceremony.

“They were then taken to Tovu Village and were traditionally handed over to the people of Tovu.”

Tovu Village headman Lorima Tupou said it was an early New Year celebration at the village.

“We had lost hope that we would see them again because the sea was very rough.

“The last report we received was that they had left Matuku for Totoya,” he said.

“We will be hosting a feast (burua bula) to celebrate their survival.”

Boat operator, Setareki Tuilovoni and Tavo Takayawa had picked up the nine passengers from Matuku on Sunday night.

“We were on our way to Totoya when weather suddenly changed.”

Mr Tuilovoni said: “They changed course to return to Matuku for shelter, but they ran out of benzene.

“Early Christmas Day at around 2am I noticed that we had drifted away from Matuku and were heading to Moala.

“The wind changed yet again and we drifted towards Totoya.”

They slept on Tuesday and when they awoke on Wednesday morning they were close to a reef off Udu Village.

“I broke all empty containers of the benzene and gave pieces to passengers to paddle to the reef,” Mr Tuilovoni said.

“We used a tarpaulin as a sail.”

As they crossed the reef they saw two fiberglass boats speeding towards them.

He was happy that all his passengers are alive.

“Throughout the ordeal I kept reminding the passengers to be at peace as the good Lord would be by our side and would lead us to safety.”

Republic of the Fiji Navy (RFN) Commander, Captain (Navy) Humphrey Tawake said they used the RFNS Kula and chartered a plane to help in the search.

He said the estimated cost of the search was $60,000.

Yesterday the New Zealand Defence Force deployed a P-3K2 Orion aircraft from Auckland to assist in the search.

Defence Force spokesperson Darryn Webb said it was luck that the boat drifted to Totoya Island, and not further out to sea.

“In this case they were lucky that the wind and the current conditions meant that they were washed ashore as opposed to being washed further into extremely vast expansive ocean where finding them would have been far more challenging,” he said.

The boat did not have a radio or emergency locator beacon onboard.

Captain Tawake thanked the NZ Defence Force for its quick reaction.

He said the P-3K2 Orion aircraft returned to Auckland when told that the missing people were found at 10am yesterday

Captain Tawake has urged mariners to listen and adhere to the weather warnings.

Edited by Rosi Doviverata


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