An Indonesian teenager has been rescued after 49 days at sea in a floating hut.
18-year-old Aldi Novel Adilang was working a six-month contract to maintain the lamps of a rompong, a type of floating fish trap shaped like a small hut, when he realized the ropes which anchored the vessel to the seafloor had come loose and that heavy winds were blowing him out towards open water.
Even before becoming unmoored the rompong had been located far from shore 125km off the coast of Sulawesi, Mr. Adilang’s home in the North of Indonesia. But now winds were sweeping it further and further out to sea. With only a walkie-talkie and dwindling supplies of food, cooking fuel and fresh water, the teenager was facing an extremely perilous situation.
Teen Alone At Sea With No Motor And No Supplies
Up until that point he had been receiving regular deliveries of supplies from his employer, who would sent a boat from the mainland each week to collect the haul of fish and drop off the next week’s essentials.
Now Mr. Adilang had less than a week’s supply of water left, and the rompong had neither motor nor paddle, let alone any sophisticated geolocation or communications devices which could have allowed the frightened teen to make his whereabouts known to rescuers.
For almost two months Mr. Adilang kept himself alive by catching fish and by drinking the seawater from his clothes. When fuel ran out, he cooked the fish he caught by burning the wooden sidings of the rompong.
During those 49 days he had the agonizing experience of seeing 10 boats pass by without ever becoming aware of his tiny vessel. Meanwhile his bosses at the fishing company had to break the news to his parents that their youngest child was missing, presumed lost at sea.
A Miracle On The Open Ocean
His mother Net Kahiking told reporters, that with no way of knowing her son’s fate his parents turned to faith. She told the AFP, “We just surrendered to God and kept praying hard.”
Her prayers were answered on August 31, when a Panamanian shipping vessel, the Arpeggio, finally spotted Mr. Adilang.
The stranded teenager first attempted to flag down the Japan-bound vessel by waving a cloth, but he then remembered the radio frequency that a friend had told him he should use if he was ever swept out to sea and saw a large ship nearby.
Miraculously the captain of the Arpeggio noticed the signal sent out from Mr. Adilang’s walkie-talkie and realized there was someone nearby in need of rescue.
The Arpeggio’s crew located the fishing hut, which by now had traveled thousand of kilometers from its initial location and was in the waters off Guam.
Huge Waves Prevent Rescue From Rompong
But Mr. Adilang’s ordeal was not quite over. High waves prevented the enormous ship from drawing close enough to the tiny fishing hut to drop down a rope for the teen.
After several attempts at circling the rompong, the crew of the Arpeggio were forced to throw the rope down into the water, hoping that the exhausted teenager would be able to grab hold of it.
Despite his extreme weakness and fatigue after almost two months without proper supplies, brave Mr. Adilang did manage to swim towards the rope and keep hold of it, as he was dragged aboard by the ship’s crew.
Mr. Adilang was taken aboard and given food and clothing by his rescuers, who were amazed he had survived so many days at sea without water and in a vessel that was never designed for sailing.
Teenage Fisherman Arrives Home In Time For Birthday
When the Arpeggio docked in Japan several days later, Mr. Adilang was at first quarantined for health reasons, while the Indonesian consulate worked with the Japanese authorities to supply him with the emergency paperwork which allowed him to return home.
He is now back with his family in Sulawesi, just in time to celebrate his nineteenth birthday at the end of the month.
This is not the first time someone has survived a long period at sea in an unorthodox vessel. In 2012 a Japanese man survived ten days at sea, floating on the roof of his house which had been destroyed in a tsunami.
In 2010 three teens from Tokelau, a dependent territory of New Zealand survived 51 days at sea without supplies after an ill-advised voyage in a stolen boat resulted in the friends becoming swept out into open ocean.