Friday, January 6, 2023

Surviving 133 days at sea: the remarkable life of Poon Lim

From HistoryDefined by Carl Seaver

On November 23, 1942, the Royal Navy destroyer SS Benlomond was torpedoed by a German submarine.
Poon Lim, a Chinese civilian seaman aboard the ship, found himself stranded in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
Against all odds, Poon Lim survived 133 days at sea before being rescued by Brazilian fishermen.

The Early Life of Poon Lim

Poon Lim was born in China in 1918.
He grew up in a fishing village and learned to swim at a young age.
When he was just ten years old, his family moved to Malaysia, where he continued to work in the fishing industry.

In 1942, at 30, Poon Lim was drafted into the Chinese Merchant Marine to work as a steward on the SS Benlomond, a British ship transporting supplies from Southeast Asia to Australia.

The Sinking of the Benlomond

The SS Benlomond was generally slow and sluggish, had scant weapons, and was now cruising alone away from any other friendly ships.

On November 23, 1942, the Ben Lomond was torpedoed by a German U-boat.
Most of the crew members on board were caught off guard and perished along with the ship.
Poon Lim was the only survivor of 55.
Fortune and fate had a very different plans in store for him.

Poon Lim was able to grab a life jacket as the ship sank and dived into the water.
He swam for around two hours before coming across and boarding a 8 by 8-foot wooden raft.
In the end, this was essentially the only good luck he had for the next 133 days at sea. 
Approximate voyage of Poon Lim
How did Poon Lim Survive?

Poon Lim first needed to assess his resources and anything else at his disposal after he had calmed down, taken a deep breath, and thought about his situation.

Tins of dried biscuits, 40 liters of water, a bag of sugar cubes, chocolate, two smoking pots, an electric torch, and a few flares made up the raft’s scant survival kit.
Along with the life jacket he could grab before jumping off the sinking ship.
He also had the clothing on his back.
Poon Lim‘s inability to swim was the last, arguably the most horrifying, part of his situation.

But no matter what food the life raft offered, he could not travel the entire distance with his supplies.
This meant that if he wanted to survive, he would need to be creative and innovative.
He started using all the raft’s resources as he realized he shouldn’t count on being rescued and needed to find food and drinkable water.
First, Ploon Lim captured and directed rainwater using the canvas on his life jacket.
Then, using the wire from his electric stove and nails he had taken out of the raft’s wood, he made little fish hooks and larger fish hooks. 

The many setbacks at sea

The brave man survived the many fishes he caught during those four months. He even managed to save some for later days.

However, one of the many setbacks he faced during those 133 days at sea was when his raft was hit by a storm, destroying his fish stock and drinking water.

Poon Lim was on the point of passing out, so in a desperate attempt, he started fishing for the birds constantly circling his boat and splashing into the water nearby.
He was fortunate enough to catch one and quickly drank its blood to slake his desire.
He continued catching birds because they gave him enough food and water to last.

However, all the blood began to attract sharks to his raft.
Poon Lim finally decided to use bird flesh as bait to draw the smaller sharks in so he could catch them after discovering that these sharks wouldn’t leave him alone.

When a shark finally bit the bait, he hauled the animal into the raft.
Lim beat the shark to death with a half-filled water jug after covering his hands in canvas for protection and grip.
He fought the sharks and relished their fins, a Hainan Chinese delicacy. 

Poon Lim Honoured (1943)
On Being Rescued

In 1943, as Poon Lim neared land, he was eventually saved.
He had previously stated that he knew the land was close because the water’s hue had drastically changed. 
Poon Lim after his rescue

Three fishermen eventually located his raft and saved him.
He had lost roughly 20 pounds during the course of his quest.
However, the fact that this man reached land and stepped ashore alone is a monument to his strength and fortitude.
He then spent the following month in a hospital in Brazil before being sent back to Britain.
Eventually, he came to the United States, where he lived in Brooklyn until he passed away at the age of 72.
That is Poon Lim’s incredible genuine story.
He is a man among men and a true survivor.
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