Mexican Fishermen Recount Nine Months Adrift at Sea

Tuesday , August 22, 2006
Associated Press

MEXICO CITY - Three Mexican fishermen who say they spent nine months adrift on the Pacific Ocean before being rescued by an Asian fishing boat never lost hope of surviving, even as they watched two companions starve to death before their eyes, they told Mexican news media Tuesday.

"We always had the hope of arriving on land," said Jesus Vidana, 27. The fishermen also denied that they had trafficked cocaine or eaten their two dead friends. "We couldn't do that, eat our companions," Salvador Ordonez told the Mexican Televisa television network in a live morning interview. Vidana told El Universal daily newspaper in its Tuesday editions that the three had left the rustic Pacific Coast town of San Blas, in Mexico's Nayarit state, to fish for shark and that rumors they had been trafficking drugs were not true. "None of that" is true, he said. "I am a fisherman. ... I have always been a shark fisherman."

The third survivor, Lucio Rendon, told Televisa that "it is normal" for a shark boat to carry as many as five men at a time. The trio landed Monday in the Marshall Islands, halfway around the world from their homeland, aboard the Asian fishing ship that pulled them from the ocean Aug. 9. Each had a medical checkup and was found well enough to return to Mexico by airplane. The fishermen are expected to reach their homeland by Friday, Mexico's Foreign Relations Department said.

Appearing surprisingly healthy, the three shyly related in live television interviews how they survived in their 27-foot-long fishing boat without hot food, sunscreen or a bathroom. One of their greatest survival tools: faith. Vidana said he dreamed about how he was going to remodel his house when he returned home and how he would make a better life for his family. "I spent all the time thinking about that kind of stuff," he said. Vidana also practiced his artistic skills at sea, occasionally singing romantic ballads and playing air guitar to amuse and keep up the spirits of his two newfound friends. "He shaped his mouth like he was singing with a guitar, so we wouldn't be sad about what had happened to our companions," Ordonez said. "At times he actually began to sing. ... I carried the Bible."

Asked what happened to two shipmates who they said died during the ordeal, Ordonez told Televisa that one, whom they knew only as "Juan," didn't want to eat raw food. "He vomited ... and after a while he vomited blood, over and over again." Eventually he and another man died, and the three survivors threw their bodies overboard, he said. Survivor Jesus Vidana, 27, said the two dead men had hired the other three to make the fishing trip, and denied speculation the five may have set out to pick up drugs at sea, an activity not uncommon on Mexico's Pacific coast, which often serves as a transhipment point to the United States. "That's wrong because we set out to catch sharks," Vidana said. Ordonez seconded that, saying, "we are shark fishermen."

Police met the rescue boat - a Marshall Islands-based, Taiwan-owned fishing vessel - at the dock, which was cordoned off to journalists, including a large group of Mexican media. The island chain is located 5,500 miles from the rustic Pacific Coast town of San Blas, where the fishermen say they left on Oct. 28, 2005. The three survivors said heavy winds carried them out to sea, where they survived by catching and eating raw fish and sea birds and drinking rain water. To pass the hours, they claim to have read the Bible and prayed for survival.

The fishermen were in good health, though two were suffering from arms and legs left badly swollen from excessive exposure to sun and salt. Officials from the Foreign Relations Department traveled to the Marshall Islands and will help the fisherman return to Mexico. Vidana said the boat had mechanical problems after setting out from San Blas, about 410 miles northwest of Mexico City, and that adverse winds quickly pushed it out to sea. The group had planned on a short fishing expedition and was carrying only flashlights and a compass at the time of its disappearance. The fishermen have become instant folk heroes in Mexico and the Mexican Council of Bishops called them an example of faith.