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Fishermen rescued after 9 months adrift

Three Mexican fishermen who disappeared in the Pacific Ocean nine months ago have been rescued nearly 8,000 kilometres from their home, saying they survived by eating seagulls, drinking rainwater and reading the Bible.

A Taiwanese tuna boat scooped the men out of the water about halfway between Hawaii and Australia on Aug. 9. They had drifted all the way from San Blas, a fishing village about 160 kilometres north of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where they were last seen in late October or early November, 2005.

Fishermen in San Blas, a hamlet of about 8,000 people, are celebrating the men's astonishing survival. "God is so great that he helped them all the time. Everybody is excited. They are surprised. They don't know how it happened that they are alive," Antonio Aguayo, a sport fishing guide in San Blas, said in a telephone interview yesterday.

"Nobody has ever been lost for so long and been alive to tell about it."

"Not even Christopher Columbus stayed on the ocean so long," Mr. Aguayo said.

Salvador Ordonez Vasques, Jesus Eduardo Vidana Lopez and Lucio Rendon Bacerra left San Blas on a short shark-fishing trip on Oct. 25, according to Mr. Aguayo. They took an eight-metre fibreglass boat.

Mr. Aguayo said the men took only enough fuel for a few days and unexpectedly ran into a storm. They may have used up their fuel travelling in the wrong direction, thinking they were headed back to shore, according to Mr. Aguayo.

The men's families concluded they had perished at sea.

"Once one week went by, two weeks, a month, three months, we all lost hope that they would be found alive," said Raul Rendon Perez, Mr. Rendon's uncle. He received the joyous news on Tuesday morning at the family ranch, where his nephew has lived for 15 years.

"That kind of life in the high seas, without food or water, you can't last more than a month," said Saul Ordonez Ceja, cousin to both Mr. Rendon Bacerra, 27, and Mr. Ordonez Vasquez, 37. "It was a miracle."

As the months passed at sea, the men's boat drifted farther and father west, until they reached the waters north of Baker Island -- between the Marshall Islands and Kiribati, and about 8,000 kilometres from the Mexican fishing village they left.

Crew members aboard a Taiwanese trawler spotted the men's small boat and realized they were alive, said Eugene Muller, manager of Koo's Fishing Company Ltd.

"They seemed to be in very good health, given what they just went through," Mr. Muller said in an interview from Majuro, the capital city of the Marshall Islands. "Other than being very hungry and having lost a lot of weight, our crew said they didn't need any medical attention."

The survivors told a Mexican radio station that it rained nearly every day of their ordeal, providing them with fresh water to drink. One of the men had a watch that kept track of the days. They passed time by reading a copy of the Bible one of the men brought along.

"We ate raw fish, ducks and seagulls. We took down any bird that landed on our boat and we ate it like that, raw," Mr. Vidana, 27, said from aboard the trawler. He said they frequently saw ships during their months at sea, but were lucky to be picked up because they were asleep when trawler's crew saw them.

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