Hondurans lost at sea were rescued by police officers just beyond the reef at
Caye Caulker last Sunday.
The four occupants of the boat had survived a gruelling nine days lost at sea
after their diesel-powered boat developed engine trouble.
police rescue party from Caye Caulker found them shaken by their experience, but
otherwise in good health, immensely relieved and glad to be on firm land again.
The owner of the boat, Ernesto Atilio and his captain, Agusto Suazo, had made
plans to leave the coastal town of Trujillo in Honduras to sell produce on the
Island of Guanaja. It was a seven- hour trip, but one they had frequently made
Jose Ramon Fuñez and Alejan-drina Ramirez, who were heading for their home
in Guanaja, joined them as passengers.
The group left Trujillo on May 1 expecting to be in Guanaja the same day. Instead
they spent the most gruelling nine days of their lives lost at sea.
hours into the journey the fuel pump began to malfunction, and as night fell,
the small boat lost all power.
Capt. Suazo used the boats compass and a map to try to steer the boat toward
Guanaja but after the second day at sea, the steering mechanism gave way to the
seas grip, putting the craft at the mercy of the waves.
produce Ernesto Atilio had on board proved a godsend. They had watermelons and
bananas and oranges. They also had a good supply of fresh water.
clothing came in handy as well. Diesel-soaked pieces of clothing served as torches
to signal for help to passing boats. During their nine-day ordeal many boats approached
the castaways but none stopped to render assistance.
all the setbacks, the captain managed to keep his wits about him and kept track
of the boats direction on his compass. A new mattress Atilio had just bought
served as a makeshift sail, keeping the small boat moving.
the third day strong waves from the south-west battered the boat badly and forced
its occupants to abandon the mattress sail. The waves also smashed the glass windows
of the boat and almost swamped it. The occupants, who found themselves continuously
bailing to keep the boat afloat, decided to dump the heavy watermelons overboard.
Around midnight that same night, even as the high waves continued to batter the
boat, Ramon Funez saw another boat passing nearby. He had tied himself to a stanchion
to keep from being thrown into the sea. In desperation he grabbed the only light
bulb on board, which the captain used to keep track of the compass, to signal
for help. The boat slowed, and stopped, but after seeing that there were people
alive onboard, continued on its way.
After a while the captain and his passengers lost all sense of direction. Alone
at sea, they had no clue as to where they were.
Burlap sacks that contained Atilios produce were ripped open to use as a
makeshift sail. Wire and fishing line served as needle and thread. Pieces of wood
hammered together served as a mast. Having put all these pieces together, the
three resourceful men and the woman kept watch by day, taking turns to sleep at
night, but always on the lookout for any sign of hope.
the sixth day the wind died down, and the boat made no progress. That night wind
freshened somewhat, and the passengers thought they saw traces of land. But their
revived hopes did not stay high. As dawn broke, all they could make out, as far
as the eye could see, was sea.
But on Sunday, the morning of their ninth day at sea, the survivors could see
land beyond the reef. By then the craft was only 200 feet from the reef, and the
captain became concerned that the boat would slam against the reef, so he dropped
anchor some 100 feet away. Passenger Jose Ramon Fuñez then volunteered
to swim to shore to ask for help.
A Caye Caulker fisherman found Fuñez while he was still trying to reach
the shore, and took him to the Caye Caulker police, who promptly organized a rescue
Caye Caulker residents marvelled at the miracle that had brought the castaways
safe and sound to their island, and plied them with food and clothing. The Government
of Belize has also assisted by repairing the boat and providing return passages
for all four people.
It was God who saved us, Atilio exclaimed, but it was Alejandrina
who interceded for us. She prayed constantly from her Bible that she carried with
her. If it wasnt for her prayers, we would not be alive today, he