Sailors Rescued by USS Ashland Defend Their Story

By The Maritime Executive 11-08-2017 09:13:33

The two female sailors who were rescued from their yacht by the USS Ashland in the Western Pacific are pushing back against allegations that their story may not line up with the circumstances of their voyage.

Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiava told their rescuers that they departed from Hawaii on May 3 for a three-week voyage to Tahiti. Shortly after getting under way, they said, their vessel was damaged in a severe, three-day storm. However, satellite imagery from the time period in question shows no evidence of a major storm system in the area. A small craft advisory was in effect at the time, but there is no record of heavy weather of the kind the women described. 

In addition, the two women had an EPIRB on board, but they never activated it because "they never felt like they were truly in distress, like in a 24-hour period they were going to die,” according to a Coast Guard spokeswoman. However, they claimed that they had attempted to signal passing ships for 98 days. Additionally, scientists questioned their account of a sustained attack by tiger sharks – a species that does not normally harass boats for hours at a time. Appel contended that the sharks repeatedly rammed the sailboat's hull. 

In an interview on Wednesday with Matt Lauer, the host of NBC's Today Show, Appel defended her version of events. According to Lauer, the Coast Guard had been in radio contact with a boat of the same name on June 15, and the crew of that vessel had reported that they were in good shape and were nearing Tahiti. Appel allowed that she had been in contact with the USCG, but only at other points in the timeline, and she said that her GPS unit clearly showed that her vessel had been nowhere near Tahiti. 

As for the sharks, Appel said that they had been attempting to convey the message that "‘you’re in our living room and you’re not leaving fast enough,’” and she did not understand it “until too late.” But even at that point, Appel did not activate her EPIRB – in part, she said, because the sharks were much closer than the Coast Guard. "It probably would have been four hours to a day before the Coast Guard would have found us on a flyover," said Appel. "So we took our chances with the man upstairs, who gave us grace and allowed us to still be here today."

The two women intend to repeat the trip, but with more preparation. "You learn from your mistakes and you prepare," Fuiava said.