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Indonesian teenager rescued after drifting for 49 days at sea

Updated September 25, 2018

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In this undated photo released by the Indonesian consulate general in Osaka, 18-year-old Aldi Novel Adilang is seen on a wooden fish trap floating in waters near the island of Guam.—AP
In this undated photo released by the Indonesian consulate general in Osaka, 18-year-old Aldi Novel Adilang is seen on a wooden fish trap floating in waters near the island of Guam.—AP

JAKARTA: An Indonesian teenager who survived 49 days adrift at sea after the wooden fish trap he was employed to mind slipped its moorings says he ran out of food within a week and survived on fish and seawater he squeezed from his clothing.

Aldi Novel Adilang said on Monday that he turned on a lamp every time he sighted another ship and can’t remember how many passed by “unaware of my ordeal.” The Indonesian Consulate in Osaka, Japan, said the 18-year-old was rescued by a Panamanian-flagged vessel off Guam on Aug 31, about 1,200 miles (1,920 kilometres) from his original location, and returned to Indonesia with officials earlier this month.

He was employed since age 16 in the one of the world’s loneliest jobs: lamp lighter on a rompong a wooden raft with a hut on top that’s lit at night to attract fish moored about 125 kilometres (78 miles) off the coast of North Sulawesi.

The coastline is not visible from the fishing rafts and the numerous rompong are miles apart, said Adilang’s mother, Net Kahiking. Supplies including food and fuel for a generator are dropped off about once a week. The minders, who earn $130 a month, communicate with fishing boats by hand-held radio.

“I was on the raft for one month and 18 days. My food ran out after the first week,” said Adilang. When it didn’t rain for days, “I had to soak my clothes in the sea, then I squeezed and drank the water.” The boy’s father, Alfian Adilang, said the family is overjoyed at his return but angry with his employer. It was the third time the teen’s raft had drifted. The previous two times it had been rescued by the owner’s ship, the boy said.

The rafts are anchored with ropes and Aldi Adilang said strong friction caused them to break. “I thought I will never meet my parents again, so I just prayed every day,” he said.

Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2018