Fijian navy rescues man stranded at sea due to coronavirus

A Singaporean man who was stranded at sea for three months after being turned away by three countries amid the coronavirus pandemic has been rescued by the Fijian navy, according to reports.

Wong Tetchoong, 59, set off on a planned three-year sailing adventure from Singapore on his yacht on Feb. 2, but the global outbreak soon forced him to abandon his quest, according to the Fiji Sun.

When he tried to dock in various countries, he was turned away because ports were closed.

“I left Singapore on February 2, and at that time the coronavirus didn’t start, so I sailed to Indonesia to my two friends,” Wong told the news outlet.

“On February 28, my two friends had to go back because their borders were closing, I was alone and couldn’t go into Indonesia because the currents were too strong,” he said.

“Ever since February 28, until I reached Fiji, I traveled alone on my yacht to different countries,” Wong continued.

“I sailed to Papua New Guinea from Indonesia because the weather was OK, but when I reached the borders, they were closed so I continued again to the Solomon Islands. It was also closed, then I went to Tuvalu and they didn’t let me in, but the Tuvalu people provided me with food.”

Wong said he then set sail for Fiji, arriving six days later on April 28.

“The autopilot for my yacht was damaged. I couldn’t go anywhere after that. I stayed in the yacht for two days,” he told the Fiji Sun.

“On April 29, the strong winds were coming and on April 30 in the morning the Fijian Navy came and they brought me to Vuda Marina,” he said. “The health officials came and took me to the Lautoka Hospital, but my body and health was fine.”

Fijian naval commander Timoci Natuva told the UK’s Guardian that Wong’s daughter had called to say that he had been unable to dock anywhere else.

After consultations between officials in Singapore and Fiji, Wong was granted permission to dock in the South Pacific country despite the strict border restrictions it has introduced in response to the pandemic.

“Due to the weather he encountered he had some defects on his boat – his rudder, engine and his autopilot – he could steer, but he couldn’t maneuver effectively, especially in narrow passages … we had to send a patrol boat to tow him in, guide him in,” Natuva told the Guardian.

“He’s been sailing for a while, so the risk [that he had coronavirus] was quite low, but all the protocols were followed,” he added.

Fiji has had 18 confirmed coronavirus cases — but has not recorded any new ones in more than two weeks and has had no deaths from the virus.

Wong, who said he was discharged Saturday, expressed his gratitude to Fiji.

“This is my first time in Fiji, I really like it here. A big thank you to the Fijian Navy and the Fijian Government for coming to rescue me,” he told the Fiji Sun.

Singaporean Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan also thanked the Fijian government, writing on social media that “the support from our Fijian friends for a Singaporean in need is especially heartening during these challenging times.”

Once the borders open, Wong will return to his wife and two children in Singapore.

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