MAJURO, Marshall Islands // A day after watching a film about being lost at sea, Toakai Teitoi was trapped in his own nightmare, drifting in a wooden boat for 15 weeks – before a shark helped to rescue him.
The 41-year-old Kiribati policeman and father of six relived his harrowing voyage in the central Pacific when he arrived in Majuro on Saturday, on the Marshall Islands fishing boat that picked him up last week.
He told of sleeping next to the body of his brother-in-law, who died during the ordeal. When he was found he was suffering severe dehydration and praying to be discovered alive.
Mr Teitoi’s drama began on May 27 after he had flown from his home island of Maiana to the Kiribati capital of Tarawa to be sworn in as a policeman. After the ceremony, he watched a film about four men from Kiribati who were lost at sea. Only two survived after being washed ashore in American Samoa six weeks later.
It was then that he changed his mind about flying home and joined his brother-in-law, Ielu Falaile, 52, on what was supposed to be a two-hour sea journey back to Maiana in a 4.5-metre wooden boat.
But after stopping to fish along the way and sleeping overnight, they woke the following day to find they had drifted out of sight of Maiana and soon after ran out of fuel.
“We had food, but the problem was we had nothing to drink,” he said.
As dehydration took hold, Mr Teitoi, a Catholic, said he turned to prayer as it gave him strength. But Falaile’s health began failing and he died on July 4.
“I left him there overnight and slept next to him like at a funeral,” Mr Teitoi said. He buried his brother-in-law at sea the next morning.
Only a day after Falaile passed away, a storm blew into the area and rained for several days, allowing Mr Teitoi to fill two five-gallon containers with a life-saving supply of fresh water.
“There were two choices in my mind at the time. Either someone would find me or I would follow my brother-in-law. It was out of my control.”
He continued to pray regularly and on the morning of September 11 caught sight of a fishing boat in the distance, but the crew were unable to see him.
Dejected, he did what he had done most days, curling up under a small covered area in the bow to stay out of the tropical sun.
Mr Teitoi said he woke in the afternoon to the sound of scratching and looked overboard to see a two-metre shark circling the boat and bumping the hull.
When the shark had his attention it swam off. “He was guiding me to a fishing boat. I looked up and there was the stern of a ship and I could see crew with binoculars looking at me.”
When the vessel Marshalls 203 pulled Mr Teitoi on board, the first thing he asked for was a cigarette.
“They told me to wait. They took me to meet the captain, and they gave me juice and some food.”
With Mr Teitoi in no physical danger, the Marshalls 203 continued fishing for several days before returning to Majuro.
He was scheduled to fly from Majuro to Tarawa yesterday and would then fly to Maiana.
“I’ll never go by boat again. I’m taking a plane,” he said.