A Singaporean man has been rescued after being stranded at sea for three months and being turned away from three countries as ports around the world closed due to coronavirus.
The man, who has been identified by Fijian media as Wong Tetchoong, 59, set off from Singapore on a sailing adventure on 2 February that was meant to last for three years.
As news about the Covid-19 outbreak began to spread around the world, Wong tried to dock in various countries, but was turned away international borders and ports were closed.
“I sailed to Papua New Guinea from Indonesia because the weather was okay, but when I reached the borders, they were closed so I continued again to the Solomon Islands. It was also closed, then I went to Tuvalu and they didn’t let me in, but the Tuvalu people provided me with food,” Wong told the Fiji Sun.
After six days and six nights of sailing from Tuvalu, Wong made it to Fijian waters on 28 April. By this point his yacht was damaged and strong winds prevented him from sailing into the harbour, so he was rescued by a Fiji Navy patrol boat, which brought his yacht safely to shore.
“We received a call, a message from his daughter indicating that he was not given rest in some of the other countries, so he came down south towards Fiji,” said Timoci Natuva, Maritime Commander for the Fiji Navy.
After discussions between the ministries of foreign affairs in Singapore and Fiji, Wong was granted permission to dock in Fiji, despite the strict border restrictions that the country has introduced in response to Covid-19.
“Due to the weather he encountered he had some defects on his boat – his rudder, engine and his autopilot – he could steer, but he couldn’t manoeuvre effectively, especially in narrow passages … we had to send a patrol boat to tow him in, guide him in,” said Natuva.
After his boat docked at Vuda marina, on the country’s west coast, ministry of health officials boarded in full pesronal protective equipment and performed health checks, before taking him to hospital in Lautoka.
“He’s been sailing for a while, so the risk [that he had coronavirus] was quite low, but all the protocols were followed,” said Natuva.
Fiji has had 18 Covid-19 cases and has implemented strict measures to stop community transmission, including curfews and lockdown of some cities. The country has not recorded any new cases in more than two weeks and has had no deaths from the virus.
Natuva said Wong seemed to be in good health, but was fatigued from his travel. He is in discussion with his family and the Singaporean government about a potential return to his home country.
Vivian Balakrishnan, Singapore’s minister for foreign affairs, thanked the Fijian government for its assistance, writing on social media that “the support from our Fijian friends for a Singaporean in need is especially heartening during these challenging times.”