Rescued Kiribati sea-drifters arrive in Marshalls

Four men from Kiribati who were rescued after nearly a month at sea have arrived in the Marshall Islands and are awaiting repatriation this weekend.

The group left the capital of Tarawa on the 23rd of March in a small wooden boat powered by an outboard engine and were not heard from until a Taiwanese fishing vessel picked them up several hundred miles to the south on the 18th of April.

The men - Tatika Ukenio, Boiti Tetinauiko, Bonibai Akau and Moamoa Kamwea - were last seen when they left Tarawa on the 23rd of March.

RNZI correspondent in the Marshall Islands says although details are still sketchy, the men were blown off course by a storm and later turned off their engine to conserve fuel and began drifting.

They were able to survive by catching fish with gear they had on board the small boat.

When the men saw a fishing boat on their 26th day at sea, they had enough fuel left in their gas tank to get close to the vessel so they could be rescued.

After arriving in Majuro, the men were taken to Majuro hospital for a check up where they were pronounced healthy.

They are staying at the Marshall Islands Resort with the help of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the International Organization for Migration, which are involved in taking care of the men and handling their repatriation to Kiribati.

The men are scheduled to depart to Tarawa on Sunday's Nauru Airlines flight.

The Marshall Islands-flagged Koo's 102 purse seiner had rescued the group, who were reported by the vessel's fishing master at the time to be "fit and well," said Koo's Fishing Company representative in Majuro Orlando Paul.

The combination of the group being in satisfactory physical shape and the purse seiner having just started its fishing trip at the time of the rescue meant the vessel continued to fish after rescuing them on April 18 and returned to its base in Port Majuro Wednesday this week.

Koo's Fishing Company, a Taiwan based corporation that flags and bases its vessels in the Marshall Islands, has performed several rescues of men drifting at sea, including the celebrated case of the three Mexican drifters who were lost at sea for nine months in 2006 and were saved by Koo's 102.