JAKARTA, Indonesia — An Indonesian teenager who survived 49 days adrift at sea says he ran out of food within a week and survived on fish and seawater he squeezed from his clothing.
Aldi Novel Adilang told The Associated Press on Monday that he turned on a lamp every time he sighted another ship and can’t remember how many passed by “unaware of my ordeal.”
The Indonesian Consulate in Osaka, Japan, said the 18-year-old was rescued by a Panamanian-flagged vessel off Guam on Aug. 31, about 1,200 miles (1,920 kilometers) from his original location, and returned to Indonesia with officials earlier this month.
He was employed since age 16 in the one of the world’s loneliest jobs: lamp lighter on a rompong — a wooden raft with a hut on top that’s lit at night to attract fish — moored about 125 kilometers (78 miles) off the coast of North Sulawesi.
The coastline is not visible from the fishing rafts and the numerous rompong are miles apart, said Adilang’s mother, Net Kahiking. Supplies including food and fuel for a generator are dropped off about once a week. The minders, who earn $130 a month, communicate with fishing boats by hand-held radio.
“I was on the raft for one month and 18 days. My food ran out after the first week,” said Adilang. When it didn’t rain for days, “I had to soak my clothes in the sea, then I squeezed and drank the water.”
The boy’s father, Alfian Adilang, said the family is overjoyed at his return but angry with his employer. It was the third time the teen’s raft had drifted. The previous two times it had been rescued by the owner’s ship, the boy said.
The rafts are anchored with ropes and Aldi Adilang said strong friction caused them to break.
“I thought I will never meet my parents again, so I just prayed every day,” he said.
Adilang’s portable radio, known as a handy-talky or HT in Indonesia, would prove to be a lifesaver.
“It was early morning on Aug. 31 when I saw the ship and I lighted up the lamp and shouted ‘help’ using the HT,” he said.
“The ship had passed about one mile but then it turned to me. Might be because I used the English word,” he said. “Then they talked on the HT.”
The MV Arpeggio, which rescued Adilang off Guam, contacted the Indonesian mission in Japan when it docked in Tokuyama and officials from the Osaka consulate collected him on Sept. 6, the consulate said in a statement. He returned to Indonesia on Sept. 8.
Adilang, who is the youngest son of four siblings, said he no longer wants to work on a rompong.
“My parents agree,” he said.