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BC's Tales of the Pacific | Stranded at sea because of coronavirus

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ONE of the most interesting stories to come out of the Covid-19 lockdown involved a sailor who was stranded at sea. 

It began at the BBC but soon swept the news centers around the world.  Enjoy the incredible story of Mr. Wong and watch for a movie version in theaters soon.

“One man's dream to spend three years sailing solo around the Pacific nearly turned to disaster after borders started closing around the region, leaving him stranded alone at sea for three months.  While people around the globe were panic buying and stocking up, he was running low on food and fuel as he sailed between islands trying to find somewhere to dock.

Wong - he only wanted to share his surname — set off from his home country Singapore on 2 February.  The plan was to sail from Singapore to Polynesia, a journey that would take about four months, in his yacht. Once there, he would spend time exploring the region by land and sea.

"I was still in Indonesian waters, so I wanted to anchor and take a break and repair my boat. But I was chased away — they said the lockdown had already begun," he told the BBC. "So, I thought OK I would just continue on."

He decided he would stop at a small island close by instead.   "It was a small island, only around 20-30 families lived there. There was no telephone, no television, nothing," he said.  "But even they had heard of the lockdown, so they chased me away. I approached several other islands, but they all chased me away.   "It was then that I got news that the South Pacific islands were all in lockdown, but I was already halfway there — I couldn't really turn back. So, I decided to just continue to Tuvalu."

It was April 21 when he reached Tuvalu. By this time, he had already spent weeks alone on his boat, and his supplies were running dangerously low.  "My initial plan, if there was no virus, was that I would stop at each country for a while, buy some fuel and food," he said.

He was about two hours from Tuvalu waters when he was discovered by maritime officials — who again, told him to leave.   "I pleaded with them and said 'Please, I don't have any more fuel and food. I won't anchor and step on land, just let me stay in your waters,'" he said.   But they said no.

"I said I didn't have anywhere to go, and they said to head back to the ocean. At last I said ok at least help me buy some food and fuel."  A boat carrying both these things eventually arrived, but they couldn't approach Wong due to social distancing rules.

But thankfully, he soon received word that the Fiji government had agreed to take him in.   "I was so happy and relieved when Fiji let me in, I was really thankful to the Fijian government and to Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs for coordinating," he said.

A navy boat was sent out to tow him in and he eventually docked in Fiji on 29 April — after almost three months of wandering the sea. He was taken to hospital where he had to undergo a swab test. The test, of course, came back negative.  "If it had come back positive — I really don't know how that would have happened! I hadn't seen anyone for months at that point!" he joked.

When asked how he felt about being rejected from every country, his tone remained upbeat, saying: "Those countries did what they had to do. If they had let me in and someone had gotten the virus from me, how could they explain the incident to their citizens?

"One thing that surprised me was that even those small islands with no wi-fi and television, even they felt the effects of the virus so strongly. I really felt for them.  I hope this outbreak is something we'll all be able to get through," he said. "And after this all ends, I will continue my voyage."

Mr. Wong, please stop at Saipan when you are near.  We would love to meet you and buy you a beer.

 

BC Cook, PhD lived on Saipan and has taught history for 20 years. He currently resides on the mainland U.S.

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