Esky Men Granted Visas To Stay

Esky men granted visas to stay

Nicolas Perpitch
Article from: The Australian
May 09, 2009

TWO Burmese men who claimed to have survived 25 days at sea in an industrial-sized Esky flew out of Christmas Island yesterday after being granted refugee status.

Ko Ko Oo, 23, and Than Thoung Htike, 24, were granted permanent protection visas on Tuesday after saying they feared they would be killed if they were returned to Burma under the military dictatorship.

They were among a group of five asylum seekers who left detention on Christmas Island last night for new lives in Western Australia and South Australia.

Mr Oo and Mr Htike arrived on Christmas Island on February 5 after being found by a patrolling aircraft 60 nautical miles northwest of Thursday Island on January 16.

They claimed to have survived on rainwater collected from the bottom of their Esky and six or seven small fish regurgitated by seabirds.

The pair reportedly told their rescuers they were from Henzada in southwest Burma and had been forced to work on a 10m wooden Thai fishing boat that sank on December 23 in a squall southeast of Indonesia.

They said no one had life jackets and their 18 fellow crew members were lost at sea.

The men's extraordinary story was met with scepticism at the time because doctors reported they were in remarkably good physical condition. They were dehydrated but not sunburnt, and did not have chafed lips or other signs that they had been drifting at sea for almost a month.

Helicopter pilot Terry Gadenne, who had rescued them, was stunned that they had survived in their Esky considering that Cyclone Charlotte had whipped up strong winds and rough seas the week before.

Speaking through a translator, the men revealed more details about how they survived. They said they thought they were at sea for 19 or 20 days after their boat sank.

“We ate some flying fish that jumped into the Esky, and some seaweed,” they said. “The only time we could drink was when it rained. Once a bird came and regurgitated about seven small fish into the Esky.”

They will live in Adelaide.

On Christmas Island, immigration officers yesterday began the initial processing of 189 asylum seekers who were taken off HMAS Tobruk on Thursday night. About 100 men were taken to the $400 million Immigration Detention Centre on the northwest of the island. The rest, families and unaccompanied minors, were taken to the old construction camp near Phosphate Hill.