Kiwis rescued from upturned Indonesian boat

07:57, Aug 18 2014
A phinisi boat similar to the one believed to have sunk between Lombok and Komodo Island.
SUNK: A phinisi boat similar to the one believed to have sunk between Lombok and Komodo Island.

A Kiwi couple has told of a desperate swim to safety and drinking urine to survive, after their tourist boat overturned while travelling between Indonesian islands.

Golden Bay couple Tony Lawton and Gaylene Wilkinson were among a group of foreign tourists who spent 10 hours clinging to the upturned boat. 

Tony Lawton and Gaylene Wilkinson
BEFORE THE ORDEAL: From left: Tony Lawton, Sharmilla Wilkinson and Gaylene Wilkinson relax at the beginning of their six week holiday, which was cut short one month in when the boat Tony and Gaylene were on sank on Saturday.

"The boat was wooden, so didn't completely sink for eleven hours, so we crammed onto the roof awaiting rescue, but nobody came. This started at 1.30am. When the boat was too dangerous to stay on, we had just a dinghy that could hold six people. Indonesia!!," Wilkinson wrote in an email to family.

She said ten people decided to try to swim to the nearby volcanic island. They quickly got split into groups in "quite big seas" that the Flores Sea was notorious for.

Over the course of six to eight hours, all ten made it onto the island, which was uninhabited.


"Nobody lives there because it is an active volcano ... still spitting hot lava and smoking all night."

She said she was thankful everyone wore life jackets.

She was amongst a group of five who were picked up by a passing fisherman, a further five were picked up by a passing dive boat.

"Wow, they looked after us so well. We are all fine, nobody with hypothermia, just quite badly burnt from being on the water in hot sun for so long."

Wilkinson said the volcanic island was extremely dry, so the group drank their own urine to survive.

"When we arrived on shore we'd already been in the water for 18 hours and we just needed a drink, so you do what you do," she told TV3.

Conditions had been rough and dark leading up to the incident, Wilkinson said.

"There was no chart, no navigation equipment, no GPS, no depth sounder, so we hit a reef," she said.

An earlier email brought the good news to Golden Bay that the pair had survived.

"We are alive,'' the email from Lawton and Wilkinson said.

Golden Bay friend Pema Parigot said initial news reports about the sinking mentioned Wilkinson but not Lawton, so the email this morning confirming both were alive was a relief.

''My heart had been in my throat, now I am celebrating,'' she said.

The couple had been on a six-week holiday including scuba diving and cycling.

''They went on an adventure for six weeks.  They've definitely had their adventure,'' she said.

It is understood they have cut short their holiday and plan to return home.​

Gaylene Wilkinson's mother Ngaire Wilkinson said: "I'm just so thankful they're alive!"​

She said the pair left New Zealand a month ago as her daughter had retired from teaching and needed a "good break".  They were in Indonesia to do a diving course.

She said the pair were​ ​heading to Bali for a few days to rest before returning to New Zealand.

They were both very fit​,​ with her daughter being part of ​Golden Bay's search and rescue team.​

Lawton told local media the cause of the accident was yet to be confirmed. "We think the boat hit a reef at 7pm on the day that we left Port Lombok," he said.

"Hit a coral reef and then, it floated off at high tide... Maybe that was the cause for the boat to sink. We don't know."

According to international media reports, Tajudin Sam, who ran the tour company operating the boat, said it likely encountered stormy weather.

Lawton and Wilkinson were among 10 people rescued on Sunday. 

A further 13 people were rescued early Monday, but a Dutch man and Italian woman are still missing. 

The boat sank Saturday evening on its way from Lombok island to Komodo island carrying 20 foreign tourists, four Indonesian crewmen and an Indonesian guide.

The ship was on a three-day trip from Lombok, a popular destination for tourists, to Komodo Island, which is famous for its giant monitor lizards.

Indonesia has a checkered maritime safety record among the thousands of ferries that criss-cross the vast archipelago. Two ships sank last month during the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holidays, killing 36 people.





Fairfax Media