Romualdo Macedo Rodrigues went out last month on a routine fishing trip that was supposed to last three days. But when cracks appeared in his boat and it started to take on water, the Brazilian fisherman believed he was doomed — until quick thinking saved his life.
Rodrigues, 44, initially set out for the island of Illet la Mere off the coast of French Guiana, according to Yahoo. He noticed widening cracks in his boat, however, which sank in Oiapoque waters off northern Brazil. Unable to swim, he sprang into action — and into the onboard cooler.
“I was desperate,” Rodrigues told CNN affiliate Record TV in a story published Saturday. “I thought my end was coming. But thanks God, God gave me one more chance. I saw [the freezer] wasn’t sinking. I jumped [inside it]. It fell to one side and kept normal.”
Adrift at sea, Rodrigues had no food or water. While the floating cooler proved an adequate life raft, he was still vulnerable to predatory threats.
“Sharks were surrounding the freezer, but they went away,” Rodrigues told Record TV. “I thought [I would be attacked]. I stayed on the top [of the freezer], I didn’t sleep, I didn’t sleep. I saw the dawn, the dusk, asking God to send someone to rescue me.”
Rodrigues said it was the thirst that bothered him most, though he also thought he “was going to be attacked by sharks because there are a lot of curious fish on the high seas.” Indeed, northern Brazil has seen more than 62 shark attacks and 25 related fatalities since 1992, according to The Independent.
Rodrigues said he bailed out the cooler with his hands when water would get into it. He thought about his family for “strength and hope.” Finally, 11 days after the ordeal began, a group of fishermen found a dehydrated Rodrigues 280 miles from his sunken boat off the coast of Suriname.
“I heard a noise, and there was a boat on top of the freezer,” Rodrigues told Record TV. “Only they thought there was no one there. Then they slowly pulled over, my vision was already fading, then I said, ‘My God, the boat.’ I raised my arms and asked for help.”
Rodrigues was arrested for lacking proper documentation when his rescuers brought him to the Suriname mainland, according to KOLD 13. After 16 days in custody, however, he was permitted to fly back home to Belem, Brazil.
“That freezer was God in my life,” he told Record TV. “The only thing I had was the freezer. It was a miracle.”