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Navy Amphib Rescues Boaters, 2 Dogs After Months at Sea

  • Sailors help Zeus, one of two dogs who were accompanying two mariners who were aided by the amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland (LSD 48). (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jonathan Clay) Sailors help Zeus, one of two dogs who were accompanying two mariners who were aided by the amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland (LSD 48). (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jonathan Clay)
  • Tasha Fuiaba climbs the accommodation ladder to board the amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jonathan Clay) Tasha Fuiaba climbs the accommodation ladder to board the amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jonathan Clay)
  • USS Ashland Command Master Chief Gary Wise welcomes aboard Jennifer Appel, an American mariner who had received assistance from Ashland crew members. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jonathan Clay) USS Ashland Command Master Chief Gary Wise welcomes aboard Jennifer Appel, an American mariner who had received assistance from Ashland crew members. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jonathan Clay)

Two Hawaiian boaters -- and their two very relieved dogs -- were picked up by the amphibious dock landing ship Ashland on Tuesday after months at sea.

Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiaba, both from Honolulu, had departed home this spring on a sailboard journey to Tahiti, Navy officials said in a news release.

Tahiti is 2,700 miles southeast of Hawaii, and a sailboat traveling at roughly five knots would make the journey in about 20 days.

But the boaters weren't counting on bad weather, which damaged their engine May 30.

According to the release, Appel and Fuiaba continued on, hoping to make landfall using just the boat's sails. But two months into the trip, about three times longer than they might have expected to be at sea, land had not materialized and the situation seemed dire.

The pair started issuing daily distress calls but did not get a response. Naval officials said they were too far away from other boats or shore stations for the signals to be picked up.

Ultimately, they were discovered Monday by a Taiwanese fishing boat about 900 miles southeast of Japan. Instead of sailing southeast to Tahiti, they had sailed northwest for hundreds of miles.

Appel told Navy officials that they survived the trip by living on the more than a year's worth of dry rations stowed on board and using water purifiers to make drinking water.

The Taiwanese vessel that spotted the stranded sailboat reached the Coast Guard in Guam. Ultimately, Taiwanese and Japanese rescue personnel were contacted, as well as the Joint Coordination Center in Honolulu.

The Ashland, which is homeported in Sasebo, Japan, and recently completed a deployment with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, was operating in the area, officials said.

It "made best speed" to the location where the stranded boat had been spotted, arriving mid-morning Tuesday. Dock landing ships can travel upward of 20 knots, or roughly 23 miles, per hour.

A video shot by Navy personnel shows the two dogs barking ecstatically as a Navy rescue boat arrives. In the video, Fuiaba stands and blows kisses to the rescuers.

"I'm grateful for their service to our country," Appel said in a statement. "They saved our lives. The pride and smiles we had when we saw [U.S. Navy] on the horizon was pure relief."

The two boaters and their dogs remain aboard the Ashland, where they have received medical checkups, food and beds, Navy officials said. They will depart when the ship makes its next port visit.

The remarkable rescue came a day after another Navy ship, the guided-missile destroyer Howard, provided aid and repairs to an Iranian fishing vessel following a pirate attack off Yemen.

"The U.S. Navy is postured to assist any distressed mariner of any nationality during any type of situation," Cmdr. Steven Wasson, Ashland commanding officer, said in a statement.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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