MANILA – Like a modern-day take on “The Old Man and the Sea,” five Filipino fishermen were cast adrift for days on a makeshift raft after a huge marlin sank their boat.
The men were fishing in the South China Sea when a 6-foot-long (1.8-meter) marlin punctured their boat’s wooden hull with its giant bill, vessel master Jimmy Batiller said on Wednesday.
Their 12-meter boat quickly dipped beneath the waves in the early evening of Oct. 3, leaving the crew with little drinking water or food until their rescue by the U.S. Navy on Monday.
“It (the fish) hit the bottom of our boat, leaving two big holes. We suspect it was chasing a smaller fish. It swam around the sinking boat for a while, apparently disorientated,” Batiller said.
The fishermen salvaged what they could, removing the outriggers, planks and barrels to create a makeshift raft.
“Our water ran out after two days. We waved at passing commercial vessels, but no one came to rescue us. But we did not lose hope,” the 42-year-old father of one said.
The crew also ate raw rice and drank some seawater.
“When we were rescued, that was when our tears fell,” said Batiller, who has been reunited with his family in Subic, a port about 80 kilometers (50 miles) northwest of Manila.
The U.S. Navy said the men were lucky to survive, especially given that they had drunk seawater.
“On average, death results two to three days after a diet of drinking undiluted sea water or urine in survival-at-sea events, as it takes more water than is consumed for the body to process the waste and salt out of the kidneys,” said Leon Hadley, the civilian chief mate from the ship which conducted the rescue, the USNS Wally Schirra.
“Luckily, we were going at a slow enough speed to have spotted the fishermen,” said the Wally Schirra’s master, Keith Sauls. “The individuals were waving their arms and a flag in the air. They were also flashing a white light that was previously thought to be fishing buoy,” he added in an account carried by the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service.
The blue marlin is one of the open ocean’s fastest, strongest predators and one of the largest species of bony fish. It can grow up to 5 meters in length and weigh as much as 820 kilograms.
It is known for its long bill, which it uses to stun prey.
“This is the first such incident we have encountered here. Most of the time it’s bad weather sinking fishermen’s boats in the open seas,” said Subic coast guard operations officer Erman Besana.
Despite the near-death experience, Batiller and his crew planned to go back to sea after a few days’ rest — provided they can find a new boat.
“This is our job,” he said.