Seven people from Comoros died while eight were found unconscious after their wrecked boat washed up in Malindi on Monday morning, after 22 days at sea.
The seven who died, including a pregnant woman and two of her children, had to be thrown overboard to keep the vessel afloat while the eight survivors had to drink salty sea water and eat raw fish to stay alive.
The 15 passengers had set sail for a two-day journey from Ndzuwani Island to Mayotte Island in Comoros when heavy winds and a mechanical mishap saw the propeller of their motorboat sink into the sea.
One of the survivors, Mr Mahmoud Hassan, who was the first to regain consciousness and talk, albeit with difficulties, revealed all the 15 were members of one family.
Mr Hassan said they had packed only a little food, and had to give priority to the pregnant woman and her children.
The woman, her husband and two children, however, died of starvation as strong waves buffeted their vessel towards the Kenyan waters in what he described as 22 days of horror at sea.
The eight survivors were rescued by Kenyan fishermen and Kenya Navy soldiers and are recuperating at the Malindi sub-county hospital.
The survivors of the ordeal include Mohammed Ahmed, Mohammed Saidwahi, Samin Mohammed, Samir Mahmud, Harun Ahmed and Haruna Huseni.
Mr Nassiru Tawidu, another survivor, narrated their ordeal.
“It’s by God’s grace that I’m alive,” he said amid tears. The 28-year-old said it was horrifying to watch his relatives die one after another of starvation, all along thinking “you are next”.
Mr Tawidu explained that the journey turned tragic when their vessel broke down a few hours into the journey.
“Our horror began when the boat we were sailing in from Ndzuwani Island broke down and the propeller sank into the ocean. Due to strong winds, we could not control the motorboat. It was carried away by the waves,” said Mr Tawidu.
He added: “We hoped to be out at sea for only two days. That is why we did not stock adequate food. We had to share the little we had, prioritising two children and a pregnant woman who were in the boat.”
He said the little food was depleted on the second day, leaving them in the jaws of death.
“When the food and fresh water got depleted, we stayed alive by taking sea water until the eighth day, when we switched to eating raw fish. That is all we had until we were rescued,” he said.
“On the fourth day, the pregnant woman got overwhelmed and sadly we recorded the first death,” said Mr Tawidu.
He added that the death of the woman and her two children really traumatised the others.
“The woman's first-born, Harun Ahmed, who is admitted in this hospital, refused to allow us to throw his mother’s body into the ocean to make the boat lighter. It took two days for Mr Ahmed to support our decision. The body had started decomposing. Immediately after we took that decision, her husband died,” said Mr Tawidu.
The woman’s two little children died next, bringing the number of deaths to four.
The survivors kept throwing the bodies into the ocean until the seventh death.
Malindi sub-county health officer Said Ali Said said the survivors were in a stable condition.
“The eight patients from Comoros are under medical supervision but we are asking well-wishers to assist them with basic things such as clothes,” said Mr Said.
The eight survivors were found unconscious about 10 miles from Watamu Beach in Kilifi County.
Mr Abubakari Omar, one of the fishermen who rescued the eight, said they found a wrecked boat while fishing at 8am on Monday.
“They were all unconscious. We had to give them the food and drinks we had as we called for more boats to come and help since ours could only carry a maximum of seven people and we were already four in the vessel,” said Mr Omar.
He added: “Their vessel was in bad shape. It had no engine and there is no way they could have survived another night of strong waves in this July weather. Luckily, we stumbled upon them.”
Watamu Beach Management Unit chairman Osman Mwambire told the Nation that after receiving the distress call, they alerted security teams, including Kenya Navy soldiers, who picked up the men and took them to Watamu dispensary, before rushing them to the sub-County Hospital.
“They were in a bad state – dehydrated, hungry and very weak – as they had gone for weeks without food,” said Mr Mwambire.
Only one could speak English and Swahili. The others spoke only French and Comorian.
Towed to the shores
According to information from the Kenya Coast Guard (KCG), the wreckage of the their vessel was towed to the shores at about 6pm.
“I received a report at 0800 hours from fishermen at the North Kenya bank that they had come across a boat that was floating at sea without an engine. The report indicated the vessel had eight passengers who were unconscious. The boat was towed to Watamu,” a signal by the Coast Guard from Mr Mwambire read in part.
The Comoro Islands form an archipelago of volcanic islands situated off the south-eastern coast of Africa and comprising Anjouan (Ndzuwani), Moheli and Grand Comore islands.