Friday January 25, 2013
Man sails from PNG to Australian island on twig raft
SYDNEY: A Polish man was lucky to be alive Friday after sailing from Papua New Guinea to a north Australian island on a raft made of twigs and sticks, through crocodile and shark-infested waters, during a cyclone.
The man was found washed up in mangroves on Saibai Island in the Torres Strait, a treacherous stretch of water that lies between the two countries.
What made his survival even more miraculous was that he attempted the trip in the aftermath of Cyclone Oswald, with 1.5 metre (five foot) swells and 40 knot winds, rescue authorities said.
"It's the first time I've heard of someone trying to cross the Torres Strait in a raft in the middle of a cyclone," Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) spokeswoman Jo Meehan told AFP, adding that the flimsy raft was held together with string.
"It's not something we'd recommend. Navigation in the area is challenging for normal vessels, it's quite treacherous with reefs and rocks, and he did it in high winds and high seas. "He's very lucky to have made it."
Australian immigration authorities said they were waiting to interview the man and it was not clear whether he was carrying a passport.
"He has been transferred to Thursday Island where he has been detained," a spokesman said, adding that the man was being medically assessed before being interviewed to find out why he made the trip.
AMSA was alerted when residents of Saibai, which is part of Australia but only four kilometres (2.5 miles) from Papua New Guinea, spotted the man offshore on Thursday.
They sent a helicopter and a customs ship but failed to find him, so they called in local police who discovered the exhausted man in the mangroves.
Australian media reported said the Pole, who has not been named, set off from Sigabadura village in Papua New Guinea on Wednesday and that locals tried talking him out of the voyage.
One report, citing Australian authorities, said he had been dropped in Papua New Guinea by a yacht. - AFP