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By Alaphonse Bariasi

LAE, Papua New Guinea (December 29, 1998 - The National)---The flourishing betelnut trade has again attracted drama at sea, this time in Madang.

A group of Bagabag islanders drifted five days in a powerless dinghy before they were found.

The 12 people, including a two-month-old infant and a three-year-old toddler left the island last Wednesday for Madang where they hoped to sell 16 bags of betelnut and do some Christmas shopping in town, then return home.

However, the hour-long boat ride turned into five anxious days out at sea when the dinghy reached Alexishafen Catholic mission station and the 55-horsepower motor ran out of fuel.

The boat was close enough to land, they saw men and women on shore, as they later told disaster officials.

However, the strong winds and current, coupled with choppy waters forced them out into the sea.

They spent the rest of Wednesday adrift outside of Alexishafen, but on Christmas Eve the strong currents swept their boat in the opposite direction to the coast off Rai Coast High School.

They spent Christmas Day there and at about 5 p.m. the next day, they pitched a tarpaulin sail and the winds swept them out into the open ocean toward Long Island. They arrived at Hetwara village on Long Island at 1 a.m. Sunday.

Madang provincial disaster and emergency services director Norman Philemon was on Long Island when the drifting vessel landed.

Philemon loaded the tired and visibly shaken passengers onto his hired vessel, MV Liku ,and sent them back to Madang, while he traveled back on their dinghy.

They arrived yesterday morning and were referred to Madang hospital.

Search parties on boats and two hired aircraft failed to spot the drifting boat since Thursday, provincial disaster officials said.

Meanwhile, Long Islanders now have water wells that should supply them even during severe droughts.

The National Disaster and Emergency Services has helped with K90,000 (US$ 42, 850) to pay for the wells.

According to the provincial disaster office, 24 wells have already been completed and villagers are very appreciative of the development.

There are about 25 more wells to be constructed, but there is need for additional culverts to construct those, as the wells have to be dug deeper.

An additional K20, 000 (US$ 9,525) would be required to complete the job, according to the provincial disaster office.

Acting director Tom Palang said the same kind of water supply systems would also be considered for Manam and Bagabag islanders who face acute water shortages during dry seasons.

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

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