March 28, 2018

Adventist Student, One of Just Seven Survivors in Kiribati Ferry Tragedy

Mele Vaihola, as told by Taauke Ruevita, Adventist Record

Taauke Ruevita was one of just seven survivors of the Kiribati ferry tragedy, which claimed more than 80 lives in January. The 15-year-old young lady, currently attending Kauma Adventist High School, was also the youngest person to survive. She shared her incredible story with Trans-Pacific Union Mission associate education director Mele Vaihola, who recently visited that South Pacific island nation.

As soon as the exam results came out and I heard my name on the radio announce that I had passed to attend Kauma, my cousin and I boarded the ship from Kuria Island bound for Tarawa where my mother and sister were waiting for me. My mother is an Adventist who is a single mother looking after my older sister and me.

The ship left for Tarawa on a Sunday at about 8 pm. We arrived at Nonouti on Tuesday and spent more than a week there as people had to get their copra (dried coconut meat) to take to Tarawa. We finally left Nonouti on the following Thursday at 6 am.

It was 12 pm when we noticed there was something wrong but thought it was just a minor issue. The next thing we knew the boat just broke in half. Everything happened so fast. People were swimming toward the four life-saving boats. I was able to get into one with my cousin, and there were about 30 of us in the boat.

As we drifted and waited and waited for help, some got tired and tried to swim away. Others just gave up and drowned, which eventually left only seven of us in the boat. We survived by eating coconut that was in our bags. When we ran out of coconuts, we managed to catch some fish to eat; for water, we just drank seawater. We lost count of days, but we found out that we were 12 days drifting at sea until a plane saw our boat and got us rescued.

I cried most of the time, yet I prayed seven times a day, every day, asking God to have mercy on me and spare my life so that I could see my mother, sister, and family again. I owe my life to Him, for He heard my cry.

Today I am here at Kauma because I am certain God has a plan for my life.

Please remember Taauke in your prayers as she still has some physical difficulties due to being hit by the ferry’s generator as she was struggling to reach the lifeboat. Taauke’s cousin also survived the tragedy.