Teenagers' miracle rescue after 50 days adrift questioned Eds: Adds doubts about their version of story
The survival of three teenagers after 50 days adrift in a small boat in the Pacific Ocean was being hailed as a miracle Friday but their island chief said they had some questions to answer, DPA reported.
The three, Samuel Perez and Filo Filo, both 15, and Edward Nasau, 14, were last seen on their home island in the New Zealand Pacific territory of Tokelau on October 5.
Sighted 1,300 kilometres from home by a New Zealand fishing boat on Wednesday, they said they had only a couple of coconuts, ate one seagull raw and were starting to drink seawater.
As they were put ashore for hospital checks in Fiji Friday, sceptics around the world questioned whether they could have survived that time with so little food and sporadic rainwater.
And Kuresa Nasau, a cousin of all the boys and chief of Tokelau's 1,300 people, told the German Press Agency dpa, "They must have had a plan to leave the island, they must have thought this was a game, they would arrive at another country soon.
"When they were reported missing on the Tuesday, we were all upset at what they did, leaving the island without telling anyone. But now they are forgiven."
He said questions had been raised as to whether they had alcohol and with a sports competition at that time there were rumours that they might have followed a boat.
"They are cousins, very close, they grew up with the sea, they are not afraid," he said, adding that the boat they were in "was very special, hard to capsize."
Nasau said, "We always had high hopes they would be found. I even said the night before they were found: those boys are out there somewhere in the ocean."
An extensive search by the New Zealand air force failed to find their boat and the 500 people of their home atoll Atafu held a memorial service.
"We got to them in a miracle," Tai Fredricsen, first mate of the San Nikunau, told New Zealand's Stuff news website.
He said his boat was on its way back to New Zealand when it spotted the three north-east of Fiji in a part of the ocean not usually on a shipping route.
"We saw a small vessel, a little speedboat on our bows, and we knew it was a little weird," he said. "We had enough smarts to know there were people in it and those people were not supposed to be there."
The boys started waving and were ecstatic to see their rescuers, he said.
"They were very skinny, but physically in good health, compared to what they have been through. They are in incredibly good shape for the time they have been at sea.
"Somehow they caught a bird, I don't know how, but they caught it. They ate it, that is what is recommended."
Nasau said the boys would be flown from Fiji to Samoa on Saturday and will leave by boat for Tokelau - which has no airport - on December 16.