Sea dogs saved

LAST UPDATED: 24 Apr, 2008 @ 11:00
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Two fishermen lucky to be alive after 23 days afloat without food, engine or radio

Exclusive – by Jon Clarke and Laura Balfour

FLOATING aimlessly around the Atlantic for nearly a month the pair of old sea dogs were convinced they were about to die.

Lost at sea in a ten-metre fishing boat with no engine, battery or radio, the odds were certainly stacked heavily against them.

In a drama similar to the bestselling book Life of Pi, the two pensioners were afloat for 23 days on what should have been a two-day jolly from Cadiz to the Canaries.

While they somehow managed to ration water right to the end, their food had run out on day 15.

Despite sending off over two dozen flares, not one of 30 passing boats came to their aid.

“I will never sail again. Never,” Herrera promised. “First to my house for some food and some sleep.”

Leaving the Cadiz fishing port of Barbate on March 11, the trip to Gran Canaria should have been a doddle for the experienced sea captain Cristo Herrera, 70, and boat owner Jose Quevedo, 61.

Both retired, the pair were finally rescued 300kms south of Tenerife last week.

Their problems began when after anchoring off Morocco their two engines failed.

Neither battery would recharge and when they flagged down a Moroccan fisherman to help, he sailed off with their only functioning phone.

This, at least led to the alarm being raised when Quevedo’s son rang up to find out about their progress and found himself talking to someone in Arabic.

Police were called in and the phone was tracked down to El Jadida, near Casablanca.

In the days that followed the pair tried their best to sail an unsailable boat.

The current firstly dragged them towards the coast near Fuertaventura, but nobody apparently saw them.

Realising they were in a desperate situation they launched up to 30 flares, but this was in vain.

The sun got hotter and the food more scare; the pair knew they were doomed if they were not rescued soon.

They gave up all hope of rescue, particularly after all passing ships ignored their plight.

But then, fortunately on April 4 they were saved by a merchant ship with a Cypriot flag.

Quevedo dived head first into the water in a desperate bid to alert them to their danger.

A Spanish helicopter was scrambled from Tenerife to winch the men up and fly them to a hospital, the Canary Island rescue service said.

The captain Herrera said: “I can’t believe that patrols that are meant to monitor our European waters did not look for us properly despite our friends raising the alarm.”

An investigation is now under way as to why they were not rescued and all their equipment failed.

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