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RABAUL, Papua New Guinea (August 11, 1998 - The Post-Courier)--A Papua New Guinean man who survived five weeks at sea in a small dinghy with no food and with only rainwater to drink said after being rescued: "Prayer saved me.''

Apelis Munulai, 32, was picked up 20 nautical miles off the coast of Papua New Guinea's East Sepik province last week by an LPG tanker, whose crew at first thought he was a survivor of last month's tsunami disaster.

He said his dinghy had drifted 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) from a beach near Rabaul on the island of New Britain. He had fallen asleep in the small metal vessel on the night of June 29.

When he awoke, the father of five found himself adrift on the open sea.

"When I was out at sea, I kept on praying and I was sure I would survive. Prayer saved me,'' Mr. Munulai told Australian Associated Press through an interpreter.

Timoci Tamani, the captain of the LPG tanker MV Boral Gas, said Mr. Munulai was thin and in "real bad shape'' when found, with sores all over his body.

"In one or two days you could have given up on him,'' Captain Tamani said.

Mr. Munulai was today recovering from his ordeal in the Wewak Hospital, where he was being treated for severe dehydration and sunburn.

Mr. Munulai, a village policeman, said he did not know how his dinghy had come to be adrift but the fuel line to the outboard motor had been removed. He said he believed a relative had removed the rubber hose, but he did not know why.

Mr. Munulai had no food in the dinghy, but managed to capture rainwater in a petrol container.

Before he was eventually picked up by the tanker he was found earlier that day by two men from Irian Jaya in a motorized canoe.

Mr. Munulai said they towed him towards an island "full of snakes'' but they abandoned him at sea when their fuel began to run low.

"I went back to praying and later the big ship came,'' he said.

A doctor treating Mr. Munulai at the Wewak Hospital, Dr. Ilomo Hwaihwanje, said he was very surprised that Mr. Munulai had survived.

He had been "very sick'', but was now recuperating well on an initial diet of soup and fruit.

Captain Tamani, whose ship was en route to Wewak from Borneo, said he and his crew were astounded that Mr. Munulai had been adrift for so long.

"We were pretty far from land so we were surprised to see someone in an open dinghy.'' Captain Tamani said the man in the dinghy waved weakly as the ship approached with its lights on and lowered a rescue boat.

Mr. Munulai was asked how long he had been at sea.

"We gave him a piece of paper and he scribbled on it '29th June','' Captain Tamani said.

"It was just unbelievable.

The tanker's owner, Peter Johnston, said the ship's crew at first thought Mr. Munulai was a survivor from the tidal wave which struck the nearby PNG coast on July 17, killing 2,200 people.

"He's a very, very tough customer and the doctors say it's just a remarkable survival story,'' Mr. Johnston told ABC radio.

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