Abandon Ship – The Merchant Seaman who Survived 133 Days Alone On A Raft On The South Atlantic
Poon Lim was born in Hainan, China. In 1942, during World War II, he was working as second steward on the British merchant ship SS Ben Lomond. The ship was armed but slow moving and she was sailing alone on her way from Cape Town to Surinam.
On November 23, the German U-boat U-172 intercepted and struck the Ben Lomond with two torpedoes in position 00.30°N 38.45°W, some 750 miles east of the Amazon.
As the ship was sinking, Poon Lim grabbed a life jacket and jumped overboard before the ship’s boilers exploded.The ship sank in around two minutes, and fifty three of the crew were lost (44 sailors and eight gunners) including the master.
Poon Lim is said to have been the sole survivor.
After approximately two hours in the water, he found an 8 foot / .74 square meter wooden raft and climbed onto it.
The raft had several tins of biscuits, a forty litre container of water, some chocolate, a bag of sugar lumps, some flares, two smoke pots and an electric torch.
He initially kept himself alive by drinking the water and eating the food on the raft, but later resorted to catching rainwater in the canvas life jacket covering, and by fishing. Lim could not swim very well so he often tied a rope from the boat to his wrist, in case he fell into the ocean.
He took a wire from the electric torch and made it into a fishhook, and used hemp rope as a fishing line, and he also dug a nail out of the boards on the wooden raft and bent it into a hook for larger fish.
When he caught a fish, he would cut it open with a knife that he’d fashioned out of a biscuit tin and then dry it on a hemp line over the raft.
Once, a large storm hit and spoiled his fish and fouled his water, so Poon, barely alive, caught a bird and drank its blood to survive.
He saw some sharks and decided to catch one, he used the remnants of the next bird he caught as bait. The first shark to pick up the taste was only a few feet long and it gulped the bait and hit the line with full force.
Poon Lim had already considered this, and had braided the line so it would have double thickness. He also wrapped his hands in canvas to enable him to make the catch. It hadn’t rained for days so Lim cut open the shark and sucked blood from its liver.
Eventually some US Navy planes saw him, and one dropped a marker buoy in the water, but unfortunately for Poon, a large storm hit the area at the same time, and he was lost again.
At first, he counted the days by tying knots in a rope, but later decided that there was no point in counting the days, so he simply began counting full moons.
He drifted on. Poon eventually knew that he was close to land because the colour of the water changed. It was no longer the deep oceanic blue, and on April 5, 1943, after 133 days in the life raft, Poon Lim reached a river inlet. Three Brazilian fishermen rescued him and took him to Belém three days later.
During his ordeal, Poon Lim had lost 9 kg/20lbs but he was still able to walk unaided, and after spending four weeks in a Brazilian hospital, the British Consul arranged for him to return to Britain via Miami and New York.
He was recognised as the Longest Ever Raft Survivor
When told that no one had ever survived longer on a raft at sea, Poon Lim replied,
“I hope that no one will ever have to break that record”
King George VI bestowed a British Empire Medal (BEM) on him, and the Royal Navy incorporated his experiences into manuals of survival techniques.