Three fishermen lost at sea for nine months relied on a fishing rod constructed out of broken engine parts and rain collected in a bucket to survive.
Sometimes going days without food, the group caught sharks — once with their bare hands — and trapped seagulls. The fishermen hid under blankets to protect themselves from the sun.
“We ate raw fish, ducks, seagulls. We took down any bird that landed on our boat and we ate it like that, raw,” Jesus Vidana, one of the three survivors, said in an interview with a Telemundo reporter using a satellite phone from the ship that rescued them.
The fishermen took turns reading from one of their last remaining possessions — a battered Bible, which had only a few worn pages left at the end of their journey.
Most of their supplies had been lost to the sea for weeks when a Taiwanese fishing trawler found the group — naked, burned and emaciated — near the Marshall Islands, more than 5,000 miles from their starting point.
The Mexican fishermen rescued from their watery prison said they never thought they would die.
“We never lost hope because there is a God up there,” Vidana told Mexico’s Televisa news network, sounding hoarse and sleepy. “Our feet are swollen, our arms are swollen ... but we’re not in that bad shape.”
The long trip
Five fishermen departed Mexico’s Pacific Coast fishing village of San Blas between late October and early November 2005 on a routine shark fishing trip in their 25-foot, two-engine boat.
San Blas is home to thousands of fishermen, many without life-saving gear in their boats, said Jose Guadalupe Guerra, a town hall official in San Blas. “The fishermen here are very rudimentary. Most don’t comply with navigation rules, and the authorities don’t demand it either.”
The group did not bring a radio nor a cell phone onto the vessel that they would call home until Aug. 9. Vidana said one of the engines broke down early in the trip and the other ran out of fuel. Without power, currents pulled the cabinless boat farther and farther west.
Miguel Gutierrez, a senior official at Mexico’s Foreign Ministry, said a survivor told a government official that one man died in January and the other in early February.
“They refused to eat, and that’s why they died,” he said. The three survivors tossed them overboard instead of using their bodies as food.
The survivors did not mention their dead companions when they were interviewed Wednesday by radio and television stations aboard the boat that rescued them near the Marshall Islands.
“It is natural that people who have spent nine months on the high seas, in the conditions they survived, would not have their complete story straight away,” Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez said.
The three remaining took turns on watch for other boats while two slept. Vidana said this task caused a considerable amount of tension, although there were never any fistfights.
“We never lost hope because we were always seeing boats. They passed us by, but we kept on seeing them. Every week or so, sometimes we’d go a month without seeing one, but we always saw them, so we never lost hope,” Vidana said, noting that it is difficult to see a small boat in heavy ocean seas.
When the Japanese trawler found them, however, all three were sleeping. Vidana said the three cried when they realized they would be rescued.
Although most of the town had given them up for dead when the vessel never returned, Vidana’s mother refused to accept her son was dead. She said months ago she dreamed that Vidana was stuck on a deserted island.
The families were ecstatic after hearing news of their rescue. “Now you see that miracles exist,” said Marina Estrada, the aunt of one of the fishermen.
Vidana will return to his wife, parents, and two kids — one of which was born during his absence.
Mexico is sending an official to meet the survivors in the Marshall Islands and help bring them home when the trawler that picked them up returns to port in a couple of weeks.
“We’re recovering,” survivor Lucio Rendon said, “sleeping a lot, and eating well.”
Salvador Ordonez, the third survivor, said, “I knew I was going to live, that I wasn’t going to die.” The three men are around 30 years old.
Vidana said as soon as he returns to his village, he will take his family to a little church and give thanks to God. One of his first questions was who won the Mexican presidential election. He could not wait to eat meat tacos and quesadillas.
Vidana added that he will then continue to fish, noting that’s the only way he knows to feed his family.