Fisherman’s expertise keeps crew and boat afloat as they drift for 10 days across Pacific

A Tongan fisherman says he signalled aircraft and passing vessels, but without any success as he and two other men drifted from Tonga to Fiji.

‘Elone Taulafo, his son Sione Taulafo and son-in-law Sofele Folau came ashore on Oneata Island in the Lau group in Fiji on August 8.

The three men went fishing at the eastern side of Nomuka in Ha’apai on July 30, but when they wanted to return to shore their engine could not be started.

Taulafo talked about their ordeal in Tongan on a 7:33 minutes video apparently recorded in Suva and uploaded to Facebook last night.

He said it was fortunate they managed to reach to shore in the last island of the Lau group before they drifted passed Fiji.

While the search was going on the three fishermen were facing strong winds and high seas. They had no food for three days. They threw items overboard and made a sail for the boat.


Video / courtesy of Siosiua Latu, Suva, Fiji

A search involving an RNZAF Orion, a Tongan navy vessel and members of the Fiji rescue team from the Rescue Coordination Centre in Suva launched for them on July 31, but was called off after five days.

While they were at sea Taulafo used his experience to keep them afloat. After the engine failed he advised the boys to throw out the anchor. The water was deep so they had to lengthen the anchor rope with fishing line.

After saying a prayer they went to sleep on their first night drifting at sea, Taulafo woke up before daylight to find the boat drifting. He woke Sione and Sofele up and they waited till daylight.

The wind became stronger as they drifted towards the east, but then they spotted the MV Niuvakai. They burnt clothing to make a smoke signal, but the Niuvakai apparently did not see them.

The next day they saw the MV Pulupaki and made another smoke signal, but the vessel apparently did not see them either.

As the wind became stronger Taulafo fear they might strike Hakaufisi reef.  

They managed to bypass the reef, but the waves became  stronger and stronger. ‘Elone told the boys to throw out another anchor on the port side of the boat as a sinker to keep the boat inclined to the left to avoid big waves from coming inside.

On midnight the next day he felt the anchor touch an underwater reef and directed Sione to cut the anchor.

The three men attempted to re-start the engine on August 1 when they could still see Tofua Island. They managed to get it going, but after 30 minutes it cut out again and could not be re-started.

“We could not do anything other than just pray and keep on baling seawater out of the boat,”  he said

They spotted the Tongan naval vessel Voea downwind of them while drifting west. Taulafo said it turned towards them, but did not see their boat before it disappeared towards the south. On the same day they spotted an aircraft, but again it did not see them.

For three more days they drifted until the wind began to ease.

Taulafo said that from August 6-8 they had no food and just kept praying and baling seawater.

On Friday 8 they spotted Moce Island in the Lau group in Fiji and tried unsuccessfully to get ashore. The boat continued drifting and finally arrived on Oneata, the last island in the Lau groups.

Mr Elone said if they had missed Oneata they would have ended up in the Solomon Islands.

He said they were welcomed by the Fijians in Oneata before they were taken to Suva on August 21. They are staying at the Tongan residence in Suva known as ‘Api-Tonga.

Mr ‘Elone said they had met Fiji authorities and were processing their immigration application for their return to Tonga.

The main points

  • A Tongan fisherman says he signalled aircraft and passing vessels, but without any success as he and two other men drifted from Tonga to Fiji.
  • ‘Elone Taulafo, his son Sione Taulafo and son-in-law Sofele Folau came ashore on Oneata Island in the Lau group in Fiji after drifting for 10 days.
  • The three men went fishing at the eastern side of Nomuka in Ha’apai on July 30, but when they wanted to return to shore their engine could not be started.
  • The three fishermen faced strong winds and high seas and had no food for three days.

For more information

‘Sobbing fisherman home in El Salvador after year adrift in Pacific’

‘Kiribati Fisherman Found After 106 Days Adrift In Pacific’

‘Kiribati fishermen survive a month adrift in Pacific’

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