An Indonesian Teenager Once Survived 49 Days Adrift At Sea

Clare Fitzgerald
Photo Credit: STR / AFP / Getty Images
Photo Credit: STR / AFP / Getty Images

For those who frequent the sea, one of their biggest fears is being stranded without any food or water. In Indonesia, it’s actually the job for some to be moored offshore for months at a time. These workers reside in fish traps known as rompongs and receive supplies on a weekly basis.

While the job can be incredibly lonely, there’s also a lot of risk to it. Aside from worries that one could fall overboard, there’s also the possibility of the traps being set adrift by strong weather conditions. That’s exactly what happened to the one manned by 19-year-old Aldi Novel Adilang, who wound up spending 49 days at sea.

Working on a rompong isn’t for everyone

Rompong floating by the MV Arpeggio
Rompongs are fish traps that feature a hut for workers to reside in. (Photo Credit: Guardian News / YouTube)

At the time he was set adrift, Adilang was working on a rompong, an Indonesian fish trap moored miles off the country’s coast. Anchored to the bottom of the ocean by rope, rompongs feature a hut, which houses those tasked with running the traps. To attract fish to the floating structures, lamps are lit each night.

These individuals spend months at a time in this isolating job, with their only human contact being through a hand-held radio and the weekly delivery of food, water and fuel for the rompong’s generator. According to sources, the position pays around $130 a month, and the company Adilang worked for had 50 traps spread across the waters off Manado.

Aldi Novel Adilang’s rompong slips out to sea

Beach along the coast of Pulau Bangka, North Sulawesi
Aldi Novel Adilang’s rompong was moored off the coast of the Indonesian province of North Sulawesi. (Photo Credit: Fabio Achilli / Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0)

On July 14, 2018, Adilang was working what was intended to be a six-month stint on a rompong moored around 78 miles off the coast of the Indonesian province of North Sulawesi. The location was experiencing strong winds, which made for particularly rough seas.

The high waves caused the rope anchoring the rompong to snap, setting Adilang adrift on what became a 49-day journey at sea. As the trap was not equipped with paddles or an engine, the teenager was completely at the mercy of the current, which pulled him farther and farther from shore.

According to Adilang, he had contact with co-workers on other rafts for the first week, but lost contact from there. He attempted to catch the attention of passing ships, but none saw him.

Going to great lengths to survive

Fish piled into a plastic bag
The fishing industry is a major part of Indonesia’s economy. (Photo Credit: Dimas Ardian / Bloomberg / Getty Images)

You might be wondering, how does someone – and a teenager, at that – survive being stranded at sea for a month and a half? Speaking with the Associated Press, Adilang revealed he largely survived on fish and seawater he wrung from his clothing, as his food stores were depleted after a week. He also lit fires from parts of the rompong’s wooden fence.

It should be noted that drinking seawater is not recommended for quenching one’s thirst. This is because the salt content is too high for human bodies to process, and ingesting too much can lead to death.

Rescued off the coast of Guam

On August 31, 2018, Adilang was rescued by the Panamanian-flagged MV Arpeggio off the coast of Guam. The vessel had initially passed by, but he was able to grab the captain’s attention using his radio. Despite being weak, he managed to reach the rope the crew dropped to him, and he was pulled aboard.

The Arpeggio was en-route to the Tokuyama port in Japan‘s Yamaguchi prefecture when the ship came across Adilang some 1,200 miles from where he first started his journey. The vessel continued its trek and docked in Japan. Adilang was evaluated by the Japanese Coast Guard, after which he was declared healthy enough to return home to Indonesia.

Not the first time Aldi Novel Adilang’s rompong had gone adrift!

Aldi Novel Adilang holding up his landing permit
Aldi Novel Adilang was examined by the Japanese Coast Guard after being rescued by the MV Arpeggio. (Photo Credit: STR / AFP / Getty Images)

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According to Adilang’s father, Alfian, while the incident itself is noteworthy, it wasn’t the first time his son’s rompong had separated from its mooring. In fact, it had happened twice before – and for the same reason as the third! Luckily, Adilang was rescued rather quickly during those first two times.


Clare Fitzgerald is a Writer and Editor with eight years of experience in the online content sphere. Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts from King’s University College at Western University, her portfolio includes coverage of digital media, current affairs, history and true crime.

Among her accomplishments are being the Founder of the true crime blog, Stories of the Unsolved, which garners between 400,000 and 500,000 views annually, and a contributor for John Lordan’s Seriously Mysterious podcast. Prior to its hiatus, she also served as the Head of Content for UK YouTube publication, TenEighty Magazine.

In her spare time, Clare likes to play Pokemon GO and re-watch Heartland over and over (and over) again. She’ll also rave about her three Maltese dogs whenever she gets the chance.

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