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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Men say bird vomit saved their lives in 25 days lost at sea: report

Men say bird vomit saved their lives in 25 days lost at sea: report
AFP/Australian Customs/Ho – Two men from Myanmar are seen January 17, floating in a large icebox at sea off the northern coast of …

SYDNEY (AFP) – Two men who spent 25 days lost at sea in a giant icebox survived their extraordinary ordeal thanks to rainwater from tropical storms and fish spat out by passing birds, a report said Wednesday.

The men, who were rescued by helicopter on Saturday, are still being interviewed by Australian immigration officials, who are hoping to clarify how they came to be drifting in shark-infested waters off the country's northern coast.

The pair told The Sydney Morning Herald they drank only rainwater and ate small fish regurgitated by seabirds after their Thai fishing boat broke up, possibly in Indonesian waters, in huge waves on December 23.

"For 10 days, nothing to eat," one of the men told the paper through an interpreter.

"Then two big seabirds came and vomited some small fish -- about six or seven little fish, and that's all."

The pair, who are aged 22 and 24 and thought to be from Myanmar, said that 18 of their crewmates from Thailand and Myanmar were lost when the 10-metre wooden fishing boat went down.

Australian officials, who have said it would be pointless to search for other possible survivors after such a delay, are questioning the men but have said it could take days to ascertain their nationality and immigration status.

Meanwhile, doubts have surfaced about the men's seemingly incredible survival tale after they were released from a Queensland hospital on Tuesday.

Doctor Paul Luckin, a Royal Australian Navy Reserve commander and survival expert, said only a regular supply of fresh water would have kept them alive.

"But for them to be able to capture rainwater in that esky (icebox) would mean the bottom of that esky would have to be fairly clean -- in other words free of saltwater and dead fish," he told national news agency AAP.

"It would be unlikely that they would travel in that esky for that time without a certain quantity of saltwater getting in."

An unnamed source told The Australian that doctors felt the men were in "remarkable condition, given their claimed exposure to the elements for almost a month.

"There is no sunburn, no chafed lips, no discernible signs that the men were out there that long," the source said.

But Peter Heath, general manager at the helicopter rescue company that picked the men up, said they were both dehydrated and at least one was suffering from ulcerations.

"The first one, as soon as the rescue crewman who was on the line got close to him, the bloke jumped at him," he told AFP. "He really wanted to get out of there. And he was in reasonable condition."

But he said the second man was wearing a lifejacket and floating in the water tied to the icebox -- which was roughly a metre high, a metre wide and two metres long -- when the helicopter arrived.

"He was a bit worse. He needed to be picked up fairly carefully. And he needed to have first aid once he was in the aircraft to stop him going into shock," Heath said.