DAGUA - Recently I was with a few of my colleagues when the evening conversation evolved into tales of real life cases of people lost at sea - and those who survived to tell the tale.
A colleague from Karasau island near Wewak related experiences of Karasau islanders who went missing in the waters between Kairiru, Unai and Karasau.
These unfortunate events happened when strong winds tore sails from the mast leaving canoes and mariners to the mercy of sea and tides.
In 2018 a family of six from Karasau, returning from Kairiru in the afternoon, had their canoe sail ripped off by strong winds, whereupon they drifted out to sea away from their island home.
Much of what happened next was told by the surviving members of the family, all young children.
When the family left Kairiru to return to Karasau, strong winds and rain met them midway and broke both the sail and the mast. They were left at the mercy of the sea, and then worse: as the children later recounted an argument broke out between their father and mother.
What happened next is not totally clear, but as they drifted away from Karasau towards Walis and Tarawai, the mother somehow died on the canoe leaving just the father and the young children.
The tide was now pushing them further away from the mainland and islands. As they drifted past Walis, the father urged his two sons to swim to the island. After much urging, they entered the water and he gave the younger of the two a piece of plank to use as a float.
He urged the elder to try his best to reach Walis and get help. As the two swam towards Walis, the father, a toddler, a younger female child and the corpse of the mother continued to drift.
After struggling with the tide, the cold and the wind and sea, the boys were able to reach Walis and were spotted in the evening by an islander who thought they were spirits.
He alerted his family and they helped the two children with food and a warm fire and alerted other islanders of the situation out at sea.
The islanders quickly dispatched search parties on motorised boats and went out to find the drifting canoe. The search was futile at its first attempt because of the dark. But on the following morning, after some time, the drifting canoe was located further west towards West Sepik Province.
When the search party approached the canoe, they saw the mother's corpse lying there, naked and bloated, with the toddler and the young girl.
Both children were alive but they saw no sign of the father.
Further searching could not locate the body. Indeed, it was never found.
When the search party asked about her father, the girl said while they were drifting she noticed her father was not in the canoe but was in the water with his hand on the side of the canoe.
As they drifted in the night, he had urged her to sleep. As she rested her head to sleep, she saw her father move to the stern of the canoe as if intending to leave.
That was the last time she saw him.
After their rescue, the children were asked about the death of their mother. They mentioned the argument between their parents but nothing about how their mother died.
Another baffling incident was that they had watched as their father fought off a large bird, most likely a 'tarangau', that tried to take the mother's corpse.
All the accounts of that fateful voyage came from three very young children. It is a tragic tale which leaves us baffled and mystified. But it is also a tale of bravery.
It seems the questions about what happened to the mother and the father will never be answered. May their souls rest in peace and may the children find peace and comfort beyond this terrible event.