Boy Lost At Sea Washes Ashore

Rivano Cabenda, 11, relaxes while sitting with his grandmother in District Saramacca on Tuesday, June 10, 2003 in Suriname. Rivano survived at sea for several days clinging to a piece of debris and ended up in Guyana after he went missing in Suriname.
For five days alone and adrift at sea, there was nothing for 12-year-old Rivano Cabenda to hold onto but a small piece of driftwood and thoughts of his grandmother in Suriname.

Without water or food, Cabenda managed to stay alive for a week until he washed ashore 94 miles up the coast in Guyana. He was sunburned, dehydrated and bloodied from a deep cut on his foot and scratches on his legs.

"I thought I was going to die," he said Tuesday. "I cried, and I called for my grandmother," who he lives with in Uitkijk, 30 miles southwest of the capital, Paramaribo.

The ordeal began May 31 when Cabenda was helping his uncle cast fishing nets at the mouth of Suriname's Coppename River.

Strong currents smashed their 26-foot wooden boat, he said.

"There were big waves, and I was scared," he said shyly. "My uncle told me to go to sleep." The next thing he knew, the boat was shaking violently and a big wave fell onto the boat.

"My uncle and I were both thrown out," he recalled, as several of his cousins and aunts listened to the tale. "I could hear my uncle scream...The current took me away very quickly, and suddenly I could not hear my uncle anymore."

His uncle, Antonius van der Bosch, held onto a wooden fishing post in the river for hours until he was rescued, relatives said.

Cabenda grabbed a piece of driftwood smaller than his own body and clung to it through the night as he was swept out to sea. At daybreak he could not see any land, but noticed a bleeding gash on his foot turning the water around him red.

"I could not steer myself," he said. "The waves were throwing me back and forth and it was making me sick. It was cold and I was tired and thirsty, but I did not drink the salt water."

Meanwhile, Surinamese authorities launched a search. On June 2, Cabenda said, he saw a helicopter flying low, but it flew away without spotting him.

"I screamed but there were waves coming over me, and I think that's why they could not see me," he said. The Coast Guard ended the search on Thursday.

Friday afternoon, Cabenda spotted land and kicked as hard as he could until the currents carried him slowly to a desolate shore littered with seashells. He said lay on the beach for hours, unable to feel his legs.

He searched a nearby mangrove forest for people but found none. When rain fell, Cabenda cupped his hand against a tree trunk and drank deeply. He slept shivering on the beach that night, and when he awoke, he said there was a wildcat sleeping at his side.

"I screamed, jumped up, grabbed my driftwood and ran back into the water," he said. For one more day on Saturday, he drifted in the water near the shore before being rescued by fishermen anchored off Guyana's coast.

Cabenda was reunited with his family on Sunday, when the fishermen brought him to authorities in Suriname.

"We all cried. We were so happy," said his 64-year-old grandmother Esselien Malbons. "After hearing what had happened to him I can only say that God kept him alive."