ALAMEDA, Calif. - The crew of the San Diego-based Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell rescued four fishermen Monday after their disabled fishing vessel had been adrift off the coast of Panama for 14 days.
The Coast Guard's 11th District Command Center, based in Alameda, Calif., notified the Boutwell's crew of the reported drifting vessel early Monday afternoon. The vessel was discovered approximately 100 nautical miles southwest of Panama.
Arriving on scene, Boutwell relieved the crew of the New General, a bulk cargo ship that had initiated the distressed vessel report to the Coast Guard after being flagged down by the drifting fishermen. Boutwell's crew confirmed the fishing vessel as El Apache, reported overdue on its voyage approximately one week earlier. The El Apache's crew was due to return to Panama City, Panama, on Dec. 28, but had suffered an engine casualty.
The survivors were given fresh water and taken aboard Boutwell while the Boutwell's engineers attempted to troubleshoot El Apache's engine casualty -- a faulty fuel pump. Repairs were unsuccessful, and Boutwell's crew took the El Apache in tow. When asked how they had survived, the fishermen replied that they had rationed their catch and even their bait. They had small portions of rice which they were able to cook on a gas stove and they collected rainwater from the recent squalls for drinking.
While adrift, the fishermen constructed a sail using a tarp they had on board, and a log found floating in the water. The four fishermen, whose names will not be disclosed, were given food and water, clean clothes, showers, and phone calls home.
"Thank God! We shared a lot of joy that we were saved," said one of El Apache's crew members. "We are very thankful that we were picked up, after so many ships had passed by without seeing us."
El Apache and her crew were transferred the following day to a Panamanian Coast Guard vessel operating south of David, Panama, where they could then be taken home to their families.
The U.S. Coast Guard has a reputation for saving lives along the nation's coasts every day, but it also deploys assets around the globe.
"I think it's awesome that no matter where we are in the world, the Coast Guard is able to help people and make sure they get home safely, just as we do for each other back home." said Petty Officer 1st Class Cale Silva, a coxswain stationed aboard Boutwell.
Commissioned in 1968, the 378-foot Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell is home-ported in San Diego, Calif., and is one of eight remaining High Endurance Cutters in service.