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Japanese tourist on surfboard sighted by ship off NSW

January 16, 2017 Headline News No Comments Email Email

A Japanese tourist on a surfboard was swept out to sea from the New South Wales south coast near Wollongong, surviving a night on the open ocean before being sighted by the crew of a cargo ship.

The 37-year-old tourist set out on his surfboard from Bulli Beach last Thursday to catch a few waves. Currents and big swells took him away from the beach and ever farther out towards the horizon.

As he drifted, paddling hard, the sun set and the moon, almost full, rose over the sea.

The tourist set out from Bulli Beach (above) on his surfboard. The ship that rescued him is on the horizon. Photo by Peter Needham


Many ships sail along the coast, some to pick up or unload coal or cargo at Port Kembla. Adrift on his small yellow surfboard under the stars, six kilometres from shore, the Japanese visitor saw the sun rise at 6am before he found himself drifting alongside the giant 300-metre-long, Panama-registered container ship MSC Damla, anchored offshore.

The day was Friday the 13th, ominous to some – but the tourist was phenomenally lucky. Crewmen spotted him bobbing in the water.

The man and his surfboard were picked up on Friday, three hours after sunrise and about 16 hours after he set out from Bulli Beach the previous day.

Port Kembla Water Police Sergeant Sean Netting told the Whyalla News that the man appeared unfazed by his ordeal.

The police officer confirmed frankly that “most people that get themselves in that situation die”.

Crew drop lifebuoy to tourist. Taken from MSC Damla

If the tourist had become separated from his board, he would have drowned. There was also a risk of hypothermia from exposure to the elements, Netting said.

As it was, the ship lowered the gangway and plucked the tourist and his surfboard from the sea.

Netting said the man was in good spirits and good health.

“He’s a survivor.”

After a check at Wollongong hospital the tourist set out to enjoy the rest of his Australian holiday. He still has his surfboard, which was undamaged and was brought ashore by the Port Kembla pilot vessel.

Written by Peter Needham

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