Fishermen in three-week survival ordeal

A fishing trip turned into a three-week fight for survival for two men, who drifted under an intense Caribbean sun for hundreds of miles in a small boat with a broken motor.

The Jamaicans survived by eating raw fish they caught and drinking water from melted ice they had brought to preserve their catch. The Colombian navy finally plucked them from the sea and delivered them home yesterday after treating them for severe dehydration, malnutrition and hypothermia.

Fishermen Everton Gregory, 54, and John Sobah, 58, said they set off from Jamaica’s south-eastern coast on Nov 20. The water was glassy, the wind was calm and their boat was laden with 14 buckets of ice, 16 gallons of water and several bags of cereal, bread and fruit.

They headed to Finger Bank, a nearby sand spit eight miles long that is known for its abundance of fish like wahoo, tuna and mahi mahi. The owner of the 28ft boat said she usually joined them on fishing trips, but could not go that afternoon.

After spending a couple of days around Finger Bank, the men set off for home with their catch, but the boat’s engine soon died. The water was too deep to use the anchor and the current too strong to use the oars, so the boat slowly drifted away.

At first, the men survived by sipping the water and eating the food they brought with them. But days turned into weeks. Mr Gregory and Mr Sobah kept eating raw fish and used a tarp to try to collect water, but the rain clouds remained at a distance.

Back home, friends and family called police and used their own boats to search the area where the men were last seen. The fishermen work for the Florida-based nonprofit group Food for the Poor, which chartered a plane to search along Jamaica’s coast. Marva Espuet, 52, the owner of the boat, said she knew she had packed it with more food and water than needed for a three-day trip, but the thought provided little relief. “If I had gone, there would have been two boats going,” she said.

With searches proving fruitless, Mr Sobah’s niece grew frantic, recalled Nakhle Hado, a fishing manager for Food for the Poor who helped lead the search. She “begged me that she wanted John back for Christmas”, Mr Hado said. Mr Hado said some people believed the two men would never be found, but he and others did not give up. “My gut was telling me that they were still alive,” he said.

Mr Hado said he had trained Mr Gregory and Mr Sobah how to survive at sea.

“In case something happens, they know how to react,” he said.


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