Canberra, Australia Two desperate, dehydrated men found bobbing in a bathtub-sized cooler off Australia told authorities they spent 25 days adrift after their fishing boat sank, officials said Tuesday. There was no sign of 18 other crew members.
Authorities were amazed that the men, from the Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar, were spotted by a routine customs service flight that patrols for far larger craft such as illegal trawlers in Australia’s northern waters.
A photograph taken from the patrol plane shows the men standing shirtless in the pink cooler — a waist-high container often used to store freshly caught fish — and waving frantically.
The men, 22 and 24, were rescued by helicopter Saturday, Maritime Safety Authority spokeswoman Tracey Jiggins said. They were treated for dehydration and released Tuesday.
“These two people being spotted is miraculous in itself in the huge expanse of ocean after drifting for 25 days,” Jiggins said.
Authorities did not say what the men ate or drank during their ordeal.
The Sydney Morning Herald’s Wednesday edition said the younger man, Ko Ko Oo, reported that he and his companion, Haung Htaik, survived on only monsoon rainwater for the first 10 days.
“Then two big seabirds came and vomited some small fish — about six or seven little fish, and that’s all,” Oo told the newspaper through an interpreter during an interview at the Thursday Island Hospital before the pair was discharged Tuesday afternoon.
One rescuer, pilot Terry Gadenne, told Seven Network television that each man drank about four pints of water within seconds of being hoisted aboard the helicopter.
“They were dehydrated, there’s no doubt about it, and very keen to get out,” Gadenne said.
The men told police they had been aboard a 30-foot wooden fishing boat that sank Dec. 23 with a total crew of 20 from Thailand and Myanmar.
Jiggins said the men found refuge inside an insulated box that held ice on the boat. “At the time of the sinking, the two survivors also witnessed other crew in the water with no flotation devices,” she said.
Officials did not know why the boat sank, Jiggins said, but the two men said the vessel had been taking on water for some time before it went down. The survivors could not give accurate details of where the boat sank.
Australian authorities did not plan to search for other survivors.
“We’ve made an assessment ... that the remaining crew members would not be able to survive 25 days in the water without any form of flotation device,” Jiggins said.
Greg Edwards, a commercial boat operator, said there had been a lot of rain and 50-knot (58 mph) gusts in the Torres Strait, where the men were picked up, since Christmas.
“It’s been pretty miserable weather,” Edwards said.
Immigration Department spokesman Sandi Logan said the men likely would be kept under department supervision while officials determined their identities. Neither man had identity documents.
The Myanmar Embassy in Canberra said it had not contacted the men and did not intend to make a public statement about the incident.
Graeme Reberger, director of the Australian cooler manufacturer Techni Ice, said the men appeared to have been in one of his company’s 210-gallon models manufactured in Thailand.
“I’m just surprised that they were able to stay in it without it tipping over,” Reberger told Nine Network television news.