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Indonesian fisherman on Rowley Shoals survive six days shipwrecked

Indonesian fisherman on Rowley Shoals survive six days shipwrecked

Fishermen’s incredible tale of survival after becoming stranded on a deserted island for SIX DAYS when their boat was swept away by Cyclone Ilsa

  • Group of Indonesian fisherman rescued off Australia 
  • The survivors were stranded for nearly a week after cyclone
  • The storm sunk one boat and beached another 

By Brett Lackey For Daily Mail Australia

Published: | Updated:

A group of 11 Indonesian fisherman have survived after becoming shipwrecked on a remote Australian island for six days after a cyclone destroyed their vessels and drowned another nine of their group. 

The men were fishing in waters at Rowley Shoals off the West Australian coast about 300km from Broome when Cyclone Ilsa tore through the area bringing record-breaking winds. 

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said the surviving crew were rescued about 3pm on Monday after an Australian Border Force surveillance flight spotted their makeshift camp and beached boat on the small white sand island.

‘The survivors reported that there had been two fishing vessels with 10 crew each but one vessel had sunk in the extreme conditions of the cyclone, ‘ a spokeswoman said in a statement on Tuesday.

‘The remaining vessel managed to rescue the only survivor before being washed ashore on Bedwell Island.’

The men, spotted by a surveillance patrol, had setup a makeshift camp after Cyclone Ilsa sunk one of their boats and beached another (pictured)

One of the two fishing boats occupied by the men lies shipwrecked (pictured). Illegal fishing by Indonesians in Australian waters off WA is common

After the men were initially spotted by an Australian Border Force  patrol aircraft another rescue helicopter was then sent to winch the relieved men to safety in a tricky low-light operation (pictured)

The ASMA tasked a rescue aircraft to collect the survivors and they were flown to Broome for medical care.

Footage from the rescue shows the relief of the men evident as they cheer, wave their arms in the air towards the helicopter, and make drinking motions asking for water.

They had been determined to survive, building shelter on the bare beach from items in the nearby beached vessel.

‘They were all very pleased to be recovered,’ Gordon Watt of rescue team PHI Aviation told 7News.

‘The difficulty came with the time of day… the rescue was conducted in the transition between day to night,’ Watt said.

‘So that always adds a level of complexity to the mission.’

Each of the men were winched onto the recue helicopter one by one using specialist night vision equipment. 

‘The crew were able to give them some water and some blankets – they were suffering exposure,’ Mr Watt said. 

Cyclone Ilsa smashed Rowley Shoals with 235km/h winds on April 13.

There were unconfirmed reports the sole survivor from the second boat swam for 30 hours in rough seas before he was rescued, using an empty jerry can to keep himself afloat.  

The weather system then tracked down the Kimberley coast before crossing onto land northeast of Port Hedland as a destructive category five system about midnight on Thursday.

Cyclone Ilsa (pictured) was called ‘incredibly dangerous’ by authorities as the category 5 storm made landfall near Port Hedland

Rowley Shoals (pictured) is about 300km off the WA coast near Broome and is a popular dive spot. Indonesian fisherman search for trepang, a type of sea cucumber, there

Australian Border Force routinely encounter illegal Indonesian fishing vessels in Australian waters (pictured). They have previously detained the men and burned their boats 

A spokesperson for WA Country Health Service said the group of fishermen were treated at Broome Hospital. 

‘Indonesian nationals were brought to Broome late last night and early this morning to Broome Hospital,’ the spokesperson said. 

‘They’ve been treated and discharged.’

An Australian Border Force spokesperson said the individuals were ‘all reported to be in good health despite their ordeal’. 

The ABF added work was underway to ‘repatriate the group as soon as practical’.

Illegal fishing by Indonesian vessels in Australian waters off the coast of WA has been on ongoing issue in recent years.

In 2022, a similar incident resulted in several Indonesian fishermen perishing when their boat was capsized by a large wave. 

Between 2018 and 2021, Australian Border Force intercepted more than 120 illegal Indonesian fishing boats – seizing most and burning at sea a small number of rickety ships. 

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