Fishermen Are Rescued After Months Adrift

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Posted by on August 15, 2006 at 20:45:30:

MEXICO CITY -- Lost at sea since November, the three fishermen from a tiny hamlet outside San Blas had been given up for dead long ago.

After weeks of looking for their son at fishing ports up and down the Pacific Coast of Mexico, the parents of Salvador "Chava" Ordonez resigned themselves to the fact that he, his two companions and their 30-foot fishing boat had been swallowed up by the sea, family members said.

On Tuesday, news of a miracle came from 5,000 miles away. After more than eight months adrift, Ordonez and his companions had been found alive north of Baker Island in the central Pacific, the same lonely stretch of ocean where aviator Amelia Earhart disappeared almost 70 years ago.

Sunburned and skinny, but otherwise healthy, they were rescued on Aug. 9 by the crew of the Koo's 102, a Marshall Islands fishing boat run by a Taiwanese crew. Trade winds and ocean currents had carried the three men from the waters off their home state of Nayarit more than halfway to Australia.

"They were quite hungry," Eugene Muller, manager of Koo's Fishing Co. said in a telephone interview from the Marshall Islands. "It's a long ways from Mexico to here."

The Mexicans' boat had two disabled outboard motors, but was still seaworthy, Muller said.

Ordonez, Jesus Eduardo Vidana, and Lucio Rendon Becerra had left the fishing hamlet of El Limon, about 425 miles northwest of Mexico City, in November, on what was to be two or three weeks of deep-sea fishing, relatives said.

Some family members already had prayed a mourning novena for the men earlier this year -- ritual prayers that are meant to guide the departed on their journey from purgatory to heaven.

On Tuesday news of the rescue was greeted in El Limon and San Blas as nothing less than an act of God.

"I'm trembling all over and I think I'm going to have a heart attack," Saul Ordonez, 42, a cousin to two of the fishermen, said by telephone from El Limon. "They went fishing and they never came back. We thought they were dead."

Ordonez and other fishermen from the hamlets around San Blas had sailed and traveled up and down the Pacific coast looking for traces of the missing boat. They even searched the coast of the Islas Maria, some 50 miles off the Nayarit coast.

"We were looking for some trace of them, anything, but we found nothing," Ordonez said. Other family members visited Acapulco and Mazatlan, and called authorities as far away as Colombia.

"No one gave us any information; no one gave us any news," Hortensia Ordonez, Salvador's aunt, told a Mexico City radio station. "So we gave them up for lost."

Unbeknownst to their relatives back in San Blas and El Limon, the three men were being pushed steadily westward by the same currents and winds that first carried Portuguese and Spanish explorers across the Pacific centuries ago.

Those currents often play havoc with the fishermen of San Blas, many of whom go 50 miles or more out to sea in search of shark and other deep-sea fish. Saul Ordonez has another cousin who has been missing for more than seven years.

"When you're out there, your engine is your lifeline," said Saul Ordonez. "These days some of us carry cell phones so we can call back if an engine fails."

The three missing fishermen apparently had no radio or cell phone, relatives said. But they did carry several days' worth of water and food -- including a supply of lemons. The three men are in the mid twenties and their youth may have played a factor in their survival, the family speculated.

Aboard the Koo's 102, the fishermen told their rescuers they survived by capturing sea birds and drinking rain water.

The three erstwhile castaways remain aboard the Koo's 102, whose crew is fishing for tuna in the waters between the Marshall Islands and Kiribati, Muller said. The Koo's 102 is scheduled to arrive in the port of Majuro in the Marshall Islands in 10 to 14 days, officials said.

The crew of the Koo's 102 is made up primarily of Chinese-speaking crew members, and the Mexicans have been able to communicate only fleetingly with their rescuers. They wrote their names on a sheet of paper, which was faxed from the ship to Majuro, Muller said.

Mexican diplomats said Tuesday they will arrange a plane trip home for the survivors once they reach port.

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