LOST FIJI DIVER MAKES SWIM OF HIS LIFE

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15-mile ordeal brings him back to Lautoka

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, July 23, 2009) – Sovanailvalu Tawase has a smile so wide it tells nothing of his 19-hour ordeal at sea swimming all night in choppy swells after being abandoned on a reef some 25 kilometres from shore.

He arrived at Bekana Island just off Lautoka, mid-morning Wednesday.

"I knew they would have to leave me behind. I knew they would not find me because the weather was so bad, all I could see around me was white walls of water. Faith saved me," the 32-year-old diver from Navakai, Nadi, whispered as he recounted his swim for life.

The married father-of-two and a group of five friends left Lautoka for a diving spot in the Yasawas at 9am on Tuesday.

As the weather conditions changed, they decided to stop at a reef called Cakau Vulavula one hour from the mainland.

According to Mr. Tawase, once out of the boat, they were on their own.

About an hour after being dropped off, he was swept out to sea.

The routine was that the captain of the boat would pick them up at 3pm.

"But soon after the winds started getting stronger and the swells were getting higher. I just watched the sun and as the hours passed, I knew they would not find me. I had been swept out of the reef, could not see anything at all, just white everywhere.

"I knew I had to wait for it to get dark. As soon as I saw the lights on the mainland, I started swimming. All I did was just swim and swim."

Born and raised in Matacawalevu, Yasawa, he said he drew strength from the teachings of his father, Pastor Mosese Vale.

"One thing he taught me when you are in a situation where it is a matter of life and death don't think about the dangers. Don't think about the sharks, the family. Just focus on how you will get out of the situation."

Asked how he coped while swimming, Mr Tawase said: "You must always keep the faith and all I did was just swim for the lights."

Tawase said when he reached Bekana Island, he was exhausted, cold, hungry and thirsty.

He called out for help but no one heard him.

"I was tired but I knew I had to keep on. I took a little paddle canoe on the beach and rowed to the Lautoka wharf where a security on duty gave me dry clothes and a hot cup of tea before calling the police."

He was medically examined and released.

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