Am I My Brother’s Eater? 5 Fishermen Survived on Seawater, Raw Fish and Urine While Clinging to Their Capsized Boat for A Week

by Owen James Burke


The five fishermen ashore, happy to be alive. Days ago, these brothers were having to come to terms with the notion that they might have to eat one another. Photo by A Pratap.

Five shipwrecked fishermen returned home to Chinnai on Sunday morning after they had been presumed lost at sea for over a week.

Brothers Kadumbadi (28) and Mayandi (32), Sakthivel (23), Suresh (23) and Mani (25) left Kasimedu Fishing Harbour last week for what was to be a routine fishing excursion–a three hour tour, so to speak.

By the end of the day, the men were satisfied with their haul and only about 20 kilometers from shore, but just as they turned for home, the weather started getting rough:

“As we made our way back, the sea turned rough and soon a mighty wave swept us and our boat was capsized. Everything was washed away, and the five of us were hanging on to the boat. We spent eight days like that”, Mayandi told the Times of India.


The 20 foot fiberglass skiff they were aboard probably looked something like these pictured above, a popular design in the Indo-Pacific, which, judging from my brief experiences aboard them, are entirely seaworthy, but require immaculate balance to keep upright. Photo: Nathan G/European Press Photo Agency.

Because the engines were still fixed to the transom, the small fiberglass boat was barely floating. One of the fishermen reluctantly dove down to unclamp the engines and abandon the utilities most paramount to their livelihood–a tragedy in and of itself when they earn their livings 20 kilometers or more offshore.

Meanwhile, the families of the fishermen resided in the local Sengaalammaal temple, praying for their safe return, but simultaneously preparing ceremonies for what seemed like the inevitable after search and rescue operations turned up empty-handed.

Battered, fatigued, and dehydrated, the men were left with no supplies. They resorted to drinking their own urine, drinking seawater, and eating raw fish, something to which, culturally, they’re not accustomed. At some point, their condition deteriorated so much to the point that they began to micturate blood.

Holding fast to their overturned vessel, the men drifted northward, and somewhere between five and eight sleepless nights later, were spotted and rescued by fishermen from Andhra Pradesh, brought ashore, and returned home to their families thanks to the fisheries department.


Photo: B. Jothi Ramalingam/The Hindu.

Though they’re still traumatized and unable to sleep, the men are all eager to outfit another skiff, head back to sea, and start anew.

Read more at The Times of India, and read a story I wrote about my friend Prasetya and his two brothers in Indonesia whose wooden skiff broke up in a storm and left them clinging to its wreckage for 20 days, also in the Indian Ocean, here. -OJB

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