Pacific fishermen head home after three months adrift: IOM

SYDNEY - A pair of Papua New Guinea fisherman who survived more than three months adrift in the Pacific will return home this week after recovering from their ordeal, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said Wednesday.

The men - Michael Bolong, 54, and Ambrose Wavut, 28 - were picked up off Micronesia on November 23 after setting sail in mid-August on a fishing trip from PNG's remote Tanga Island, some 1,600 kilometres (1,000 miles) to the south.

A third man, Wavut's father-in-law Francis Dimansol, did not survive the epic voyage, dying three weeks before his companions were rescued, the IOM said.

The Micronesian government described the survivors as in "fine" health when they were picked up by a passing tuna boat, needing only a brief spell in hospital for observation.

Since then, they have been living in the capital Pohnpei while officials have made arrangements to repatriate them.

The Geneva-based IOM said it was paying for the pair to fly home on Thursday from a discretionary fund set aside to help stranded migrants in urgent circumstances.

It said they initially ate rice and flour after finding themselves adrift with no fuel. But their supplies lasted only two weeks and they had to find their own food, fashioning a makeshift spear from a pot handle and nails.

At one point, they wrestled a 1.8 metre (six foot) shark onto the deck, adding it to a diet of fish, turtles and the occasional coconut that floated by their vessel.

"Sometimes they would go three days without food... twice they came close to rescue but were missed by passing fishing boats," the IOM said in a statement.

Amazing tales of survival at sea are not uncommon in the Pacific, where mariners can easily become lost between tiny islands that are the only land in vast swathes of ocean.

Salvadoran fisherman Jose Salvador Alvarenga made global headlines last January when he said his small open-top boat had drifted for 13 months across the Pacific from Mexico to the Marshall Islands.

Alvarenga said he ate raw fish and bird flesh while keeping hydrated by drinking rain water, turtle blood and his own urine. He said his 24-year-old companion died because he could not stomach the diet.

His story was initially met with scepticism but officials later said details he supplied checked out and he passed an exhaustive lie detector test about his experience.