It was on a Sunday morning, the 3rd of July 2022 that Webster Clifford Malefo Anisi, a local fisherman from Funafou, in Lau Lagoon, Malaita started his estimated eight (8) hours journey from Honiara to Bunikalo in the beautiful Marovo Lagoon of Western Province.
Anisi, 58, and father of four, was returning one of his nephew’s boats, a 21 footer BPI model powered by his 25 horse mercury engine (the one in which he was traveling in) to Marovo and was planned to return to Honiara by Ship on Tuesday the 5th, according to his schedule.
“On the morning of that Sunday, after I packed all my things, I asked my wife and daughter to pray with me before I went down to Western Province”, Anisi exclusively told SBMOnline.
Anisi also said that he was taking with him on the journey a 20kg and a 10kg bag of rice, five scones, four loaves of bread, five packets of cigarette and a cooler storing a block of ice.
In an earlier interview with his children, Janette Chapman, his last born daughter said that her father really loves the ocean and whenever he feels sick or has anything thing that troubles his mind, he would go into the ocean for comfort.
“My dad is a great fisherman, we have a good life with all four of our school fees back then, food and most of the living cost entirely depending on daddy’s fishing”, said Mrs Chapman.
Anisi who fished the waters in and around Honiara and the Central Province Islands for more than 40 years, and also a supplier for kingfisher for the famous Jena’s Restaurant was about to set out for only his third trip by boat to the Western Province.
“I departed Fishing village at 9am but during that day there were fogs covering the islands, when I reached Visale I turned on my GPS, located the Russell Islands and headed towards it. By 11 am I was able to pass the first island in Russell but I followed the southern side”, he recalled.
“I followed the islands and headed towards where Mary Island was located, I then turned on my GPS to confirm the Island’s location and then I went towards Mary Island but traveled behind of the island where it was a little bit quiet because the sea was very rough and windy,” he continued his story.
Anisi then changed his fuel tank before turning on his GPS to locate Gatokae Islands and then estimated where his destination might be.
“I then turned off my GPS and left Mary Island and headed for Marovo, but after about 30 minutes of traveling, I turned and looked back but there was no sight of Mary Island. I quickly tried to turn on my GPS again to see if I was heading towards Gatokae but the GPS was dead”, Anisi this week in Honiara.
He then followed his knowledge of the sea and and tracked the waves that were hitting the side of his boat. However, when the experienced fisherman felt that he was close to Gatokae, the waves then changed course and now were hitting the front of the boat.
“The expected time for me to reach Bunikalo was 4:30pm to 5pm but I was not able to see any island at all. I slowly watched the sun setting until it was dark that I knew that I missed Gatokae Island,” he told SBMOnline.
He recalled: “The first night after turning off the engine, I spent the whole night bailing out the sea water entering the boat because I was unable to see the direction of where the waves were coming from and adjust the position of the boat.”
Meanwhile back in Honiara, the family was still waiting for a phone call from their father, to see if he had reached his destination.
“Every time my father went out on his fishing trips, I always felt that he would be okay because even though there is a storm or big wind he always managed to get back home safely”, said Jevarlyn Ofe, Anisi’s first born daughter..
On Monday, the second day of his ordeal, with the hope of seeing any island and knowing where his position was, Anisi woke up to the sight of only the vast ocean and not any sign of land close by.
Luckily for the brave fisherman, there was no room for panicking or feeling sad about his situation. All that he said during the interview was that it was as if he was traveling on his normal trips.
“Monday morning I had only one fuel tank left, I started the engine and tried my best to at least find any island before the day ended. So I began my search for land until 3pm in the afternoon that I ran out of fuel, that is when I started to drift about Monday 3pm,” Anisi remembered.
During his time floating in the ocean, the fisherman said that he had not a single clue of which direction he was drifting towards. Even though lost in the middle of the sea, Anisi said that he was still happy and had hope to reach any of the Islands in the Western Province in the coming days.
As days turned into weeks, Anisi the local fisherman from North Malaita, was still sitting on top of the cabin of his boat scanning the ocean for any sight of land.
“But I told myself that if I had not seen any island for about a week, it meant that I must be out the county’s border because all our island are not far from each other”, he said.
Anisi also shared that the loaves of bread which he had brought with him lasted for two weeks, with half of it soaked with the sea water that entered the boat.
” I had no choice but to eat the bread already soaked with salt water. I dried the already mold bread on top of the cabin and luckily I managed to bring along a packet of sugar which I ate with the bread to help with its saltiness. I also drunk the melted block of ice for the first couple of weeks,” he told me.
Not an active church goer, Anisi said that after the first week, he would set the alarm of his hand watch and assign his prayer times which carried on for a month.
“I hoped that after a month I would be able to reach any island but unfortunately after a month being adrift there was still not a single sight of any island”, he said.
On the third week of his ordeal, out of the many coconuts that he was able to find floating in the ocean, only one was fresh which he removed the shell with the aid of a screw driver.
Meanwhile, while their father was still battling for survival in the middle of the ocean, when all the searches were called of by the authorities, his family back in Honiara held a Memorial Service for Malefo who they thought had already lost his life.
“On a few occasions I decided to end my own life, and one best way of ending my life was to stop drinking water for a total of two or three days,” he said.
On Monday of his fifth week being adrift, disappointed from not able to see any islands, the already weakened fisherman then decided to stop drinking water until Wednesday when everything was blurry and he was not able to walk or stand properly.
“On that Wednesday evening my body was already shaken and I thought to myself that my life would end in the night or the next day, suddenly out of nowhere a small thought entered my mind that my children wanted to see me and are thinking strongly about me”, he said.
He then decided to continue drinking water again.
He also came across marine vessels which headed towards him and then changed course when he was waving to them.
” I often saw one or two steamers passing by each day and I would wave to them. I also clearly saw the names of the passing vessels but many unsuccessful attempts of waving and trying to seek help from the big ships, I gave up and stopped waving”, he said.
On the Tuesday of the final week of his ordeal, the least of all places he’d expected to find an island was where he saw West New Britain. He said while the winds were pushing him towards the location of West New Britain, he felt hopeless and thought that he was heading towards the Indian Ocean.
Seeing clouds gathering from a distance, Anisi was not sure that it was the Island of West New Britain so he spent some time observing the sight until the shape of the island began to show on the that evening.
“On Wednesday during the day the sea breeze was pushing me towards the island and as the days gone by the island was starting to get bigger and closer and on Friday I thought to myself that I’m now safe,” he recollected.
However, hoping that “we would be closer to the island by the morning, the night land breeze then pushed further away from the island. During the days the sea breeze would push me towards the Island while on the nights the land breeze carried me away, the cycle carried on for about a week.”
“On the last week before I made it to the shore, the wind then continued pushing me further away from the island. And on that final day [Thursday] the island was then nearly out of my sight,” he stated.
“Weakened and hopeless about reaching the island, Anisi said that he once again prayed but this time not for help but for God to end all his suffering and that he had given up.
“I also said in my prayers that if God has a plan for me to survive, please, let me reach the shores of the island during the daytime and not at night”, he said.
After praying, Anisi then said that it was a fine Thursday morning so he decided to take a nap. While taking his nap in the boat’s cabin, he then felt that the boat was rocking from as if the seas were rough and to his surprise, Anisi also saw that the clouds were getting darker.
“Out of nowhere, the strong wind then pushed the boat towards the Island once again. At around 1pm in the afternoon, the problem which he now faced was that the wind was taking him to the path where the big waves were breaking.
“I began thinking to myself whether I can make it to shore or whether this will be the place that my life will end, but like I said I was lucky no to be afraid or panicked during that situation,” said the brave fisherman.
While battling with the big waves, Anisi was able to make his way to the back of boat and tried his uttermost best to steer the boat using a paddle. The waves were too strong for the weakened fisherman that to his surprise he was thrown overboard.
“If it weren’t for the life jacket that I was wearing, I would have been killed by the rocks at the bottom of the sea. Also fortunately I was able to hold on to one of ropes from the boat if not the boat would’ve gone far from were I was,” he detailed his story.
He then continued on saying fortunately for him the boat was stuck on a small rock and with the help of the current, he was able to board the boat.
After a total of 47 days in the ocean, on the 18th of August, already weakened from the ordeal, Anisi was spotted and rescued by two young girls from Kaskas Island in West New Britain, PNG.
It came as a huge shock for the entire family and also the country as a whole when someone by the name of Jackey Felix, a forester from PNG, posted pictures and a video on social media announcing that he had survived the ordeal.
After spending a few days in the island, Anisi was later transported to Kimbe Hospital by a helicopter where he received treatment and later traveled to Port Moresby before reuniting with his family in Honiara on the father’s Day weekend.
The family on the other hand has taken the time to firstly thank everyone for their prayers and for the wantoks in PNG for their help in keeping their father alive and well.
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