Saved by sea rubbish: A sailor’s incredible survival story of 16 hours adrift

Overboard in the middle of the South Pacific, the 52-year-old seaman Vidam Perevertilov put all his hopes on a small black point on the horizon and began to swim.

It was a decision that saved his life.

He was not wearing a life jacket when he fell off the cargo ship Silver Supporter as it was underway on its routine supply route between Tauranga and Pitcairn Island on February 16.

When he hit the cold, dark water it was about 4 a.m. and pitch black.

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Vidam’s strength was exhausted as he struggled to stay afloat, and his hopes sank as his ship sailed away, not knowing that he had fallen.

As the sun rose, so did his morale.

Seaman Vidam Perevetilov was lost at sea for 16 hours and survived by clutching an abandoned fishing buoy seen here in a life ring thrown by his rescuers when he was picked up.

Delivered

Seaman Vidam Perevetilov was lost at sea for 16 hours and survived by clutching an abandoned fishing buoy seen here in a life ring thrown by his rescuers when he was picked up.

“He could see a black point on the horizon that was a few kilometers away,” his son Marat told Stuff from Lithuania.

“He started swimming on it. His will to survive was strong, but he told me that until the sun came up he would have trouble staying afloat.

“I would probably have drowned right away, but he has always kept himself fit and healthy so I think he could survive.”

Vidam Perevetilov, seen here prior to his ordeal, was rescued after spending 16 hours at sea after falling overboard.

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Vidam Perevetilov, seen here prior to his ordeal, was rescued after spending 16 hours at sea after falling overboard.

Marat has been in contact with his father since he went overboard and heard his incredible survival story via message chats.

He thanks Vidam for all the rescuers who saved their families from the tragedy.

Vidam got into trouble after doing a night shift in Silver Supporter’s engine room pumping fuel.

“He said he felt hot and dizzy after his shift finished, so he went to the quarterdeck to relax,” Marat said.

“He doesn’t remember falling overboard. He may have passed out. ”

The MV Silver supporter that Vidam Perevetilov fell overboard.  The shipowners praised the efforts of the captain and crew to save because they had never lost their faith.

PITCAIRN ISLAND TOURISM / SUPPLIED

The MV Silver supporter that Vidam Perevetilov fell overboard. The shipowners praised the efforts of the captain and crew to save because they had never lost their faith.

It took about six hours for the crew to realize that Vidam was missing. A general alarm was called. All hands were counted. One was missing.

The captain turned the ship around and radioed in an emergency. Work logs showed that Vidam was last on board when he was completing a work report after his shift at 4 a.m.

The coordinates of the ship’s location at the time were sent to JRCC Tahiti, and distress messages were sent to ships in the area.

Meteo-France, a French national weather service, heard about the distress signal and offered assistance in calculating the likely drift patterns.

French naval aircraft based in Polynesia have made efforts to make the search easier.

As rescue efforts increased, Vidam ended his long swim towards the black spot he had been playing on.

“It turned out to be an old fishing buoy,” said Marat.

“It wasn’t anchored to anything or a boat, it was just a piece of marine litter.”

It was rubbish. But it was floating. That was all Vidam needed. Now he could bob in the water and save his energy.

But there was a new problem: the sun, which was helping him find his lifeline, hit him, burned his skin and dried his throat.

There was nothing Vidam could do but wait and endure. He watched the darkening horizon as it burned, hoping a ship would arrive before sunset.

Suddenly a familiar ship climbed the horizon. The silver supporter. He waved and called desperately.

The Silver Supporter is the ocean near Pitcairn Island (file).

Iain McGregor / Stuff

The Silver Supporter is the ocean near Pitcairn Island (file).

“What happened next was almost inexplicable,” said Marat. “The Silver Supporter was doing search patterns and one of the passengers said he heard a faint, human scream on the starboard side of the ship.”

Marat was told that the captain had decided to change his search vector to do some research, but after 10 minutes they saw nothing. They turned the ship back to return their original search pattern, and on the route an overlook spotted a hand raised above the surface of the sea.

“They came along, threw him a lifebuoy, lowered a ladder and a crew member pulled him on board,” Marat said.

“He looked about 20 years older and very tired, but he was alive.

“It was incredible that someone would hear a voice, or even if they thought they heard a voice, and from there it all came together.”

British High Commissioner Laura Clarke, who is also Governor of the Pitcairn Islands, likened survival to the historical survival story of then-Captain William Bligh, who was evicted from his ship Bounty in 1789 after a mutiny but sailed 6,700 kilometers in a safe boat.

The mutineers of the Bounty became the first residents of Pitcairn Island.

Marat says the ordeal hit his father, but he’s been doing well so far.

“He talks about God a lot in messages now, and he wasn’t a very religious person before,” he said.

“He’s thought a lot about his whole life while out in the ocean.”

Marat asked his father why he hadn’t brought the buoy on board as a souvenir.

“It’s funny. He said he wanted to leave it there so it could save someone else’s life.”