Poon Lim Survived 133 Days Alone On A Raft On The South Atlantic
Poon Lim was born in Hainan, China and in 1942, during World War II, he was working as second steward on the British merchant ship SS Ben Lomond aka Benlomond.
The ship was armed but slow moving and was sailing alone on its 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.
Lim is said to have been the sole survivor, although another account suggests that eleven other sailors may also have been rescued.
A Raft With Supplies
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 liter jug of water, some chocolate, a bag of sugar lumps, some flares, two smoke pots and an electric torch.
Survival By Determination And Improvisation
Poon Lim initially kept himself alive by drinking the water and eating the food on the raft, but later resorted to catching rainwater in a 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.
Storms, Sharks And Bird Blood
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.
One time he saw sharks and decided to catch one so 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, and he’d also wrapped his hands in canvas to enable him to make the catch.
The shark attacked him after he brought it aboard the raft and he used the water jug half-filled with seawater as a club.
It hadn’t rained for days so Lim cut open the shark and sucked blood from its liver.
A Passing Ship And Planes
On two occasions other vessels passed nearby, the first one a freighter and then a squad of United States Navy patrol planes.
Poon contended that the freighter saw him but did not pick him up because he was Chinese.
The Navy planes did see 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.
Counting The Days
At first, he counted the days by tying knots in a rope, but later decided that there was no point in counting the days, and simply began counting full moons.
Rescued At Last
Poon knew that he was close to land because the color of the water had changed.
It was no longer the oceanic deep 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.
Weight Loss But Able To Walk
During his ordeal, Poon Lim 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.
The Longest Ever Raft Survivor
When told no one had ever survived longer on a raft at sea, Poon Lim replied,
"I hope no one will ever have to break that record".
People have lived longer lost at sea, with the current record being 10 months for 3 Mexican sailors in a disabled fishing boat.
However, as of 2013, no one has broken Poon Lim’s record on a life raft.
The British Empire Medal
King George VI bestowed a British Empire Medal (BEM) on him, and the Royal Navy incorporated his tale into manuals of survival techniques.
After the war, Poon Lim attempted to emigrate to the United States, but the quota for Chinese immigrants had already been reached.
However, because of his fame and with the aid of Senator Warren Magnuson, he received a special dispensation and eventually gained citizenship.
Poon Lim died in Brooklyn on January 4, 1991, aged 72.