General Santos, Philippines, Mar 31 – Adrift and alone in the Pacific Ocean, Rolando Omongos prayed to live long enough to bring home news of the death of his uncle, whose corpse he had cast off at sea.
The 21-year-old Filipino fisherman was stranded in January after a storm separated him and his uncle from their main fishing vessel, leaving the pair on a tiny boat without fuel, food or fishing tools.
His prayer was answered when — having survived for 58-days by eating moss and drinking rainwater, but too weak to stand — he managed to hail a passing ship by waving his ragged shirt.
Still in shock and tearful, his hands blistered by the sun, Omongos told reporters of his ordeal after returning to Manila on Wednesday.
Omongos said he lived off the tiny plants that grew on the boat and rainwater he collected using plastic containers. He lost 40 kilogrammes (88 pounds) in weight.
When Omongos’ uncle died he tied the body to the boat for a week, but had to loosen it into the sea when it began to decompose.
“I just thought, Lord, I leave my uncle to you. I have to live and come home to give our family the news about what happened to him.”
Omongos said at one point he thought he might suffer the same fate but did not lose hope of being rescued, finding strength thinking of his grandfather, a fisherman who had toiled hard for the family all his life.
“Every time my body suffered from the heat, I would dip into the sea and then surface again. I would dip ten times a day to keep cool,” he recounted.
Omongos stayed on the lookout for passing ships, trying to get their attention from his tiny boat.
“I prayed that they would have mercy and come toward me.”
When one finally did, he said he had barely any strength left.
“I was too weak to stand up and they had to carry me,” he said.
“I was so happy when I was rescued because God heard what I prayed for every day and every night. I cried but no tears came.”
After his rescue by a Japanese ship, he was dropped off on the Papua New Guinea island of New Britain — over 3,200 kilometres (2,000 miles) from the Philippine port of General Santos where he and his uncle had originally set out.
Rolando, who left school young, said he might return to his studies but that after his recent experience one thing was for sure: he was not going back on a boat.
“I just want to rest for a few months,” he said.