My Itchy Travel Feet | The Baby Boomer's Guide To Travel

Rescue in the South Pacific

2012/02/22by Donna Hull


Fishermen adrift at sea. Photo courtesy Suzanne Arthur

Can a cruise ship make a dramatic rescue at sea? Will the passengers become involved? Alan and I had a chance to find out when Seabourn Odyssey, our home for the last 12 days, rescued three Western Samoan fishermen between Fiji and Pago Pago, American Samoa. This time, Alan tells the story:

It’s late afternoon in The Club on Seabourn Odyssey. Donna and I are settling into our chairs to enjoy a pre-dinner glass of wine and listen to the guitar stylings of Gary T’to. The ship cruises along—the background noise of engines and other ship sounds telling us all is well. We’re looking forward to watching another beautiful Pacific sunset before heading to dinner and then onto the show in the theater.

Without warning, the ship’s sounds change—the engines run quiet, Odyssey slows down. Donna and I look at each other and our thoughts are the same, “Uh oh, what’s happening? Is the ship broken? Are we drifting?”

It’s obvious that something is wrong, but we’re confident that the captain and crew will fix whatever is amiss. Then, we hear the familiar chime chime indicating an announcement is coming.

Captain Mark Dexter’s message is short, “You may have noticed that I’ve slowed the ship’s speed. We have spotted a small boat up ahead. Someone on the boat appears to be waving at us. We are a long ways from the nearest land. I’m sending crew to check out the situation.”

Immediately many of the passengers, myself included, forget about the wine and entertainment to rush to the outside deck on the starboard side leaving Gary T’to playing to a nearly empty room. Outside, we discover a very small boat bobbing in the water. From my estimation it appears to be about 22 feet in length. The speculation begins:

A woman standing next to me asks, “Could these be pirates? Is this an ambush?”

A man replies, “No, I heard that the boat has engine trouble.”

“Someone told me that they ran out of gas,” responds a third passenger.


Seabourn Odyssey to the rescue. Photo courtesy Suzanne Arthur

The Odyssey slows further, then stops, with the mystery boat about 100 yards to the side. A skiff with three crew members on board is lowered into the water to check out the situation. I can clearly see three men in the mystery boat, all standing and watching as the Odyssey skiff pulls closer. For the next thirty minutes or so we watch as the skiff stays close to the drifting boat yet keeps a safe distance. I can tell there is radio communication going on but will not know the exact nature of the conversation until later on.

After approximately thirty minutes, the three men appear to be packing some items into a small personal bag, the skiff pulls along side and they step into it, reluctantly abandoning their boat, probably the most important possession that they own. Later, we find out this was likely their first step from a watery grave into a new life.


Fishermen prepare to abandon their boat. Photo courtesy Seabourn Odyssey

The  skiff, now with six men, heads back to the cruise ship in the waning light.

Of course the passengers could not see or talk to the three men and were limited to information coming from crew members. It wasn’t until later that we learned just how dramatic the situation was.

The three Western Samoans were fishing when their boat ran out of fuel. Adrift for 18 days, the men existed on raw fish and rain water. Odyssey was the first shipped that had passed close to them. Another hour and we would have been sailing past in darkness, perhaps unaware of their plight.

That evening at the conclusion of the show, Cruise Director, Nick Hale, announced that the men were doing fine after being examined by the ship’s doctor. They had showered and put on fresh clothes before enjoying a meal of chicken and rice. And the best part of all—they had been allowed to contact family members. The same family members who had been preparing funeral services, since the men had been declared lost at sea over a week ago.

But my story doesn’t end here. Passengers spontaneously began a monetary collection for the rescued fishermen. We all rushed from the theater back to our rooms to open safes and retrieve cash to place in ice buckets from our staterooms that were passed around to collect donations. Within a matter of minutes, over $2,000.00 had been collected.


Three happy fishermen with Cruise Director, Nick Hale. Photo courtesy Seabourn Odyssey

When we docked the next morning in Pago Pago, Donna and I chatted with a ship’s officer as we departed the Odyssey for a cruise excursion. He told us that during a briefing with officers of the ship and immigration authorities, the three men had each been presented with $800 from the monies collected by the passengers. The officer speaking to us simply said: “It was a VERY emotional event for all present.”

Can a cruise ship make a dramatic rescue at sea? Seabourn Odyssey did.

Will the passengers become involved? Donna and I witnessed a heartwarming display of generosity.

We’re proud of Seabourn Odyssey and our fellow cruisers.

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A boomer travel and lifestyle authority who is exploring the world one activity at a time. Besides writing and publishing My Itchy Travel Feet, she also writes about boomer travel for My Well-Being Powered by Humana, Make It Missoula and is the author of New Mexico Backroads Weekend Adventure.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Nancy Sathre-Vogel from Family on Bikes February 23, 2012 at 12:45 am

Wow! What an amazing story! I shudder to think what would have happened if you had passed by an hour later.
Nancy Sathre-Vogel from Family on Bikes recently posted..Making Your Dreams Comes True – Orlando Vacation Giveaway #OrlandoGiveawayMy Profile


February 23, 2012 at 8:12 am

What a great experience. Glad that it all turned out.
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February 23, 2012 at 3:57 pm

Wow, what an amazing story – those Guys must have been feeling very lucky when they got rescued
Heatheronhertravels recently posted..The Passport Party Project – giving girls a chance to travelMy Profile


Barbara Weibel February 23, 2012 at 9:41 pm

Incredible story Donna and Alan. You should pitch it to the New York Times or The Washington Post. And who knew Alan was such a talented writer? :-)
Barbara Weibel recently posted..PHOTO: Afternoon sunlight streams over the ruins at Machu Picchu, PeruMy Profile


Mark H February 24, 2012 at 1:43 pm

Wonderful and well-told story that has clearly prevented a tragedy at sea.
Mark H recently posted..Timeless Memories in Bourke Cemetery (Australia)My Profile


Sherry Ott
February 26, 2012 at 3:35 pm

Wow- my heart was racing reading this. This is a great story – especially among the normal ‘cruise in the news’ story. 18 days at sea is a very long time…you were a miracle!
Sherry Ott recently posted..Travel Engineering – Boeing Plant TourMy Profile


Nancy D. Brown
March 1, 2012 at 3:42 pm

Luxury cruise passengers help Western Samoans adrift at sea. What a great story.


April 21, 2012 at 12:15 pm

Oh wow–I heard about this, but I can’t imagine having been on board to witness this! What brave men to survive out there for so long, and what generous passengers to donate that money to them. Seems like a once-in-a-lifetime encounter!
Emily recently posted..Photo Essay: The Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, TurkeyMy Profile


Donna Hull
April 23, 2012 at 6:50 pm

Emily it was an uplifting experience for all.


Nancy April 23, 2012 at 1:45 pm

We just returned from Hawaii where we came across a news story ( about Princess Cruises not responding in a similar situation. Unfortunately, in that case, two of the three Panamanian men aboard their drifting fishing boat had died by the time they were eventually rescued by another fishing boat off the coast of Ecuador. Very sad . . . which makes your story all the more remarkable, Donna.


Donna Hull
April 24, 2012 at 7:53 am

Nancy, I’m amazed that the Princess ship didn’t respond. There must have been a communications snafu because I know how seriously ship captains take responding to distress calls. After all, they may be the one needing help at sea some day.


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