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Christmas miracle or tall tale? Sailor and cat wash up on French island ‘after seven months adrift’

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Christmas miracle or tall tale? Sailor and cat wash up on French island ‘after seven months adrift’
The Polish sailor who says he was adrift for seven months with his cat. Photo: AFP / SOCIETE NATIONAL DE SAUVETAGE EN MER
13:16 CET+01:00
Zbigniew Reket told local media on the Indian Ocean island of La Réunion that his wild adventures on the high seas actually began several years ago but that it was only since May that he and his cat Samira were left at the mercy of winds and tides after engine failure.

The Polish sailor's tale is impossible to verify but the disastrous state of his boat and his emaciated body clearly bear witness to hard times on the ocean wave, the reports said.

Reket, 54, said he was living in the United States in 2014 and had gone to India to buy himself a boat in the town of Alang on the country's west coast. But he discovered he couldn’t return to the US as his green card visa had expired.

So he decided to head for Jakarta in Indonesia on the vessel he had purchased, which was a large, covered lifeboat of the kind carried on cruise ships or ferries and which he had fitted out himself with a mast, a motor, and a rudder.

But the mast soon broke and he was carried westwards, eventually reaching the Comoros Islands, which lie between Mozambique and Madagascar, Reket recounted.

He said he spent two years there, during which time he tried to repair his boat and also contacted the Polish embassy in Kenya to ask could they get him home to Poland.

“They didn’t want to repatriate me,” he said. “They gave me 150 euros and that was it.”

He took to the sea again on May 20 this year along with Samira, a cat he had adopted in the Comoros, this time hoping to reach Durban in South Africa.

But his motor broke down, the boat's instruments were smashed and he had no means of communication. He drifted for months, he said, living on the Chinese noodles he had brought which were meant to last for just one month. He supplemented his diet with fish he caught.

“We drifted towards the Somali coast, then towards the Maldives, and then Indonesia again,” he said.

“Several times I could see land but I could never steer towards it. I spotted several ships but the battery on my radio was dead,” he said.

Then, on Christmas Day, a sailing boat spotted him off the coast of Réunion and alerted the coastguard, which sent out a boat to tow him to shore on the French island that lies to the east of Madagascar.

A local charity is helping him with clothes and food, and authorities are checking out his story, which so far, local media said, looked plausible as they have seen his Polish passport, his permit to stay in the Comoros, and his US green card.

Reket says he is thinking of staying on Réunion, which as an EU citizen he is entitled to do.

“I want to have a normal life, find a job, and why not stay here,” he said.

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