Two men from Solomon Islands who spent 29 days lost at sea after their GPS tracker stopped working have been rescued off the coast of Papua New Guinea – 400 kilometres away from where their journey began.
Livae Nanjikana and Junior Qoloni set out from Mono Island, in Western province, Solomon Islands, on the morning of the 3 September in a small, single 60 horsepower motorboat.
The pair planned to travel 200km south to the town of Noro on New Georgia Island, using the west coast of Vella Lavella Island and Gizo Island to their left as a guide.
“We have done the trip before and it should have been OK,” Nanjikana said.
But even for experienced seamen, such as Nanjikana, the Solomon Sea, separating Solomon Islands from its neighbour, Papua New Guinea, is notoriously rough and unpredictable.
Just a few hours into their journey, they encountered heavy rain and strong winds, which made it hard to see the coastline they were supposed to be following.
“When the bad weather came, it was bad, but it was worse and became scary when the GPS died,” he said. “We couldn’t see where we were going and so we just decided to stop the engine and wait, to save fuel.”
Surviving on oranges they’d packed for the trip, coconuts they collected from the sea and rainwater they trapped using a piece of canvas, they floated about 400km northwest for 29 days, eventually spotting a fisher off the coast of New Britain, Papua New Guinea.
“We didn’t know where we were but did not expect to be in another country,” Nanjikana said.
The men were so weak that when they arrived in the town of Pomio on 2 October they had to be carried off the boat and to a nearby house.
They have since been assessed at a local health clinic and are now staying with Pomio local, Joe Kolealo, who told the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation: “Now they live happily with us.”
Nanjikana said he has taken some positives away from the experience, such as a forced break from the chaos of a global pandemic.
“I had no idea what was going on while I was out there. I didn’t hear about Covid or anything else,” he said. “I look forward to going back home but I guess it was a nice break from everything.”
Mary Walenenea, the chief desk officer for the Solomon Islands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, based in Papua New Guinea, said they are in contact with Nanjikana to ensure the necessary arrangements are made so that both men can return home.
Just north of Mono Island, where the two men departed from, is Papua New Guinea’s Bougainville Island.
In July, a boat carrying Bougainville’s minister for health Charry Napto, his wife, their son and four others disappeared in rough seas. Only one person a local teacher was found.
Just weeks earlier, another boat disappeared off the coast of Bougainville with 13 passengers on board, ending up 50km north of its destination 36 hours later. Bougainville’s police chief, Francis Tokua, has since said the government is considering restricting boat travel during rough weather.