Teitoi watched a film May 27 about four men from Kiribati who were lost at sea for six weeks before landing in American Samoa, and the next day he began a drift in the central Pacific that lasted for 105 days.“I planned to return by plane, but my brother-in-law had a boat so I decided to ride with him,” said Teitoi in Majuro Saturday, four days after his rescue at sea by the fishing boat Marshalls 203.
Teitoi and Ielu Falaile, 52, departed Tarawa in the early afternoon May 28 in a 15-foot wooden boat with a small engine for the trip to Maiana that normally took about two hours on a clear day. Part way to the atoll, the pair came across a school of fish. “We saw the school and started fishing,” Teitoi said. “We caught a lot of fish and lost track of the time.” By the time they resumed their trip to Maiana, it was nearly nightfall. They could see the islands in the distance, but could not get there before dark. They decided to turn off their motor to conserve gas by drifting, and await dawn when they’d try to reach the island, he said. “We couldn’t see the island when the sun came up, but we did see a fishing boat in the distance,” he said. They gave chase, but could not get close enough to catch the attention of the fishermen before running out of gas.
“Then we knew we were drifting,” Teitoi said. “We had food, but the problem was we had nothing to drink.” As the days wore on, they became thirstier and found it difficult to eat, he said. For five weeks, there was no rain. Falaile was getting weaker. Both were severely dehydrated for lack of fresh water, Teitoi said. Teitoi, a Catholic, said prayer gave him strength. “I prayed in the morning, afternoon and evening,” he said, adding he encouraged Falaile to do the same, but he did not seem to have the same enthusiasm for prayer as his health began failing. Every time he tried to eat, Falaile would vomit, Teitoi said. On the evening of July 3, he was groaning when Teitoi checked on him. When Teitoi woke the next morning, he discovered that Falaile had died. “I left him there overnight and slept next to him like at a funeral,” he said. The next morning, he buried the remains of his brother-in-law at sea. The next day, a storm blew into the area and it rained for several days after five weeks with no rain, Teitoi said. He was able to fill two five-gallon containers on the boat and from that point on, was able to maintain a supply of fresh water. His health began returning and he was able to eat more fish, gaining back some of the weight he lost earlier. “Everything was okay from this point,” he said. On the morning of September 11 — 105 days since the start of the drift — he spotted a vessel some distance away, but it did not see him. Dejected, he ate a breakfast of fish and then, as the sun began to beat down on him, he did what he had been doing most days: he curled up in the bow where a small covered area gave him protection from the sun.
He awoke in the afternoon to sound of scratching on the hull. He said he poked his head out and looked around to see a six-foot shark circling the boat. The sound that woke him was the shark bumping the hull. As he followed the path of the shark around the boat, suddenly it swam straight off. “He was guiding me to a fishing boat,” Teitoi said. “I looked up and there was the stern of a ship and I could see crew with binoculars looking at me.”
It was the Marshall Islands-flagged purse seiner Marshalls 203 — a joint venture boat between Koo’s Fishing Co. and the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority — which was fishing in this area between Nauru and the Marshall Islands. It immediately came to his rescue, Teitoi said. When he was picked up, he was about 200 miles southwest of Ebon and northeast of Nauru.
The ship used a winch to pull the small boat with Teitoi in it out of the water and onto the deck of the fishing ship. As he stepped onto the deck, Teitoi said he asked a crewmember for a cigarette. “They told me to wait,” he said. “They took me to meet the captain, and they gave me juice and some food.” After about three hours he was able to enjoy his first smoke in nearly four months. How was he planning to get from Tarawa to Maiana? “I’ll never go by boat again,” he said emphatically. “I’m taking a plane.” His luck from the rescue held up, with AMI delivering him to Tarawa in time to make the Air Kiribati Sunday afternoon flight to Maiana allowing him to hug his wife and six children — 110 days after setting out for a two-hour boat ride home. And the Maiana community now has its newest policeman on duty for the first time.