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Stories From Kiribati


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The First Three Swimmers

Posted by Amota Eromanga on October 30, 2012 at 7:05 AM

‘The First Three Swimmers’ is connected to the other true story entitled Ocean Accident - Uean Te Raoi which had been published here as well. In the second part of that story, three men swam away to the island - not long after the ferry had capsized to bring news of the accident to the people on Maiana so help arrived immediately. It is recommended that you read that story (of six parts) before reading this one.

However, this story tells about one of those first three swimmers - how he swam that distance and what he did after he got safely onto the island. The story was told by that swimmer himself. (For some reasons, names of people will not be stated)

Here is the man’s story:

The three of us volunteered to swim to the island, not because we wanted to abandon the rest of the passengers, but to bring news of the danger to the people on Maiana island. The three of us didn’t leave the ferry at one go, as the first man swam away straight after he was given the first available life jacket. When the second swimmer got his life jacket, he began following his friend. I was the last to get a life jacket and before I swam away, I conversed with one of the passengers telling him that although swimming away was risky, I would try my best so that I could bring back help to those staying behind. 

I was alone as I swam to the island. I couldn’t see my friends as we were far apart from each other though we had the same goal - reaching the island. The island had gone farther now compared to the last time I saw it before the ferry capsized. It was not possible to see the island when I was in the sea thus I could see it (beach couldn’t be seen) when the waves took me up. I knew that I had to swim wisely and thoughtfully otherwise I would not reach the island. So what I did was swimming with my hands first. When my hands became tired I then used my legs to push me forward. There were times when I had to stop swimming and just floated. Swimming seemed easy at first but later I knew that I had to struggle hard. I was unfortunate to come upon some flocks of birds flying around and above me but lucky nothing happened. I thanked God that the fish ignored me. I swam like that until the beach was very close - few hundred meters away.

I couldn’t stand nor walk even though my legs could touch the sand. My legs were very weak and couldn’t walk at all. So I just let the waves hit and pushed me all the way until I finally reached the beach. I had reached the shore safely. Part of the island which I had washed up onto was Onobubua – almost the northern end of Maiana island where nobody lived.

My legs needed rest before they could walk again. I hadn’t seen any of my other two friends and also wasn’t sure whether they had reached the shore or not. I started walking along the road toward the village which was quite far from where I had landed. This area was isolated and nobody lived here as it was somewhere at the very northern tip of the island. On my way I could see new marks which I guessed they were my friends’ footprints. Luckily and without expecting it, a motorbike arrived. The driver asked me to wait for him there as he would come back for me after dropping his passenger at Tebikerai village. When he returned, he took me to Tematantongo – my home village.

I asked the driver if anybody had brought the news of the accident. ‘Yes, your two friends had landed and the public had been informed’ he told me. When I heard that I was so thankful that my friends were safe and the alert had been sent.

Before we got to my house, we had to get off the motorbike and walked as there was a feast held inside the mwaneaba that was beside the road. When people saw me, they invited me to the mwaneaba where I told everyone of what really happened to Uean Te Raoi. While I was there, the policeman drove by so I asked him if he could take me on his motorbike. He agreed as he was on his way to give money for the cost of fuel needed for more rescue boats.

At my house, I felt sick from the sea and the swim. I had to stay home as I needed a good rest.

I knew and heard that there were many boats that went to help searching for the ferry. They spent hours in searching until quite late at night. Some boats got back to the island reporting to find no sign of the capsized ferry.

Note: Mapcarta and other sources stated that the nearest places to Uean Te Raoi when it capsized were Tebikerai and Onobubua villages of 7 km south. We could make estimations then that these first three swimmers might have swum the distance of more or less than 7km through the ocean. They were strong and brave swimmers indeed!


Categories: True Stories