Rescued castaways go home to Kiribati

by Jun Hongo

Staff Writer

Stories about castaways are mainly the stuff of movies or footnotes in history books.

But then there’s the mid-May rescue of two Kiribati natives who, along with a relative, had set off for a day’s fishing in mid-February, only to run out of fuel and be cast adrift in the Pacific. A spokesman for fishing outfit Kyokuyo Suisan Co. recounted their ordeal and rescue Thursday to The Japan Times.

“Our boat was fishing for bonitos and tuna in the Western Pacific,” Kyokuyo Suisan’s Shinya Yoshimoto said. “That’s when one of our crew spotted the drifting vessel.”

The 349-ton Dai-San Wakaba Maru, operated by Shizuoka Prefecture-based Kyokuyo Suisan, encountered the 5-meter fishing boat about 3,000 km west of Kiribati on May 14.

On board were Teibouri Kakau, 50, and Ukenio Kaobunang, 45, who had been adrift after leaving the tropical island in mid-February.

Yoshimoto said the crew quickly brought the two aboard and fed them.

With the help of a crew member who also happened to be a Kiribati native, Yoshimoto learned that Kakau, Kaobunang and a relative were fishing Feb. 10 when they ran out of fuel and drifted away from land.

The relative died at sea, but the other two survived by consuming seabirds and fish until they were found near the Caroline Islands north of New Guinea. They also gathered rainwater to drink out of the empty fuel tank and ate whatever they could catch, including turtles and sharks.

According to Kyokuyo Suisan, the company quickly took the men to Japan for treatment. They arrived in Kagoshima on May 21 and were promptly hospitalized, but fully recovered in about a week. Yoshimoto said they left Japan in good shape.

Kaobunang’s family had already reportedly held his funeral when news that he was alive came in.

The Kagoshima-based Minami Nippon Shimbun quoted the rescued pair as saying last month that they thanked God and the crew who rescued them.

Kakau and Kaobunang also reportedly learned some Japanese during their brief stay and thanked their rescuers in Japanese before heading home at the end of last month.

Yoshimoto said his company received a letter of appreciation from the Japan Coast Guard.