One of the biggest challenges of Aldi Novel Adilang’s job was supposed to be boredom, as the sole caretaker of a wooden fishing hut miles out at sea. Instead, he was forced to survive more than a month on the ocean after his hut lost its mooring and drifted from Indonesia to waters around Guam. For 49 days, Aldi survived by stretching out his meager supplies, reportedly subsisting on fish and partially strained seawater. He had been living aboard a floating hut called a rompong more than 77 miles off Indonesia’s coast. But the line anchoring the hut snapped in high winds on July 14, turning Aldi into a castaway.
Lacking any way to steer or power the unwieldy raft that bore his hut, the 19-year-old drifted across the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean. The small hut sat on a rectangular wooden platform and was protected by a thatched roof. Inside, he had a walkie-talkie, a small stove and a generator. Aldi’s supplies of food, water and fuel had been meant to last him only a week. Aldi had been under a six-month contract to work on the floating hut, his main duty to light its lamps to attract fish at night. He had face-to-face contact with people only once a week, when new supplies were brought to him. But after his mooring line broke, he drifted for hundreds and possibly thousands of miles.
But just after the Arpeggio passed him on Aug. 31, Aldi was able to dial his radio to a frequency the vessel was using. According to video posted by a crew member, Aldi’s distress message — “Help Help Help” — reached the cargo ship’s chief mate, Emmanuel Soriano, who informed the captain, Narciso Santillan — who ordered the ship to change course to carry out a rescue operation. Aldi arrived at the Japanese port of Tokuyama on Sept. 6 but had to spend another night on the cargo vessel. There were concerns about a possible health quarantine, and officials rushed to arrange travel documents for him that would allow him to disembark in Japan. He traveled from Osaka to Tokyo and then flew to Jakarta, before finally making it back home.
On Sept. 9, Aldi returned to his family in North Sulawesi, an Indonesian province whose islands help form the eastern ring of the Celebes Sea. The country’s consulate in Osaka posted photos of the young man with his relatives in the coastal city of Manado.