After Boat Sank Off Brazil, Man Survives for 11 Days in Floating Freezer

In late July, a Brazilian fisherman found himself in a situation that would terrify even the hardiest sailor.

His boat started to sink, he was all alone — and he didn’t know how to swim. Panicked, he did the only thing he could think of: He climbed into his freezer.

In a survival story that has quickly garnered international attention, Romualdo Macedo Rodrigues was rescued after spending 11 days at sea north of Brazil. Alone in his freezer, the 44-year-old survived without food or water, losing almost five kilos of body weight during the ordeal.

A fishing boat from Suriname stumbled upon Rodrigues on Augusst 11. They captured the indelible moment of his rescue on video, with the fishermen hauling the exhausted survivor into their boat, where he immediately falls to the deck.

Rodrigues later told local media: “This fridge, for me, was God. A miracle.”


How a fridge becomes ‘God’

Rodrigues left Oiapoque, an area in northern Brazil, in late July. He set off in a wooden boat about seven metres long. He planed to go to an island off the coast of French Guiana for a few days fishing.

Then the unthinkable occurred. It’s not clear how it happened, but the boat suddenly began filling with water. Rodrigues, thinking fast, climbed into the large fridge he carried on board.

Soon, the floating appliance was all he had.

“What troubled me most was the thirst,” he told local media. “I thought I was going to be attacked by sharks because there are lots of curious fish on the high seas.”

When finally rescued 11 days later off the coast of Suriname, Rodrigues said he heard a noise and realized a boat was cruising past him.

“Then they slowly got closer, my vision was fading, and then I said, ‘My God, the boat,'” Rodrigues said. “I raised my arms and asked for help.”

To add insult to injury, he was arrested

The fishermen found Rodrigues floating about 450km from where his boat sank. They fed him water and porridge, then brought him ashore.

Unfortunately, Rodrigues had one more trial to face. Though he received first aid in Suriname, officials also arrested him for being undocumented, the Daily Mail reported.

He then spent 16 days in a prison in Paramaribo, according to news reports, before officials finally allowed him to fly home to Belem, Brazil.

Rodrigues described the rescue as “the most important day” of his life.

“I was born again,” he said.

If Rodrigues, in fact, drank no water during his 11-day ordeal, that is a remarkably long time to do without. An Austrian bricklayer named Andreas Milhavecz supposedly survived for 18 days in a basement cell in 1979, when jailers forgot about him. But reports also suggest that he was able to lick condensed moisture from the dank basement walls.

Oddly, this wasn’t the first time that a floating freezer has saved the lives of sailors after their boat sank. In 2009, two Burmese men survived for 25 days in a similar ice box. They, at least, had rain water to drink.

Andrew McLemore

An award-winning journalist and photographer, Andrew McLemore brings more than 14 years of experience to his position as Associate News Editor for Lola Digital Media. Andrew is also a musician, climber and traveler who currently lives in Medellin, Colombia. When he’s not writing, playing gigs or exploring the outdoors, he’s hanging out with his dog Campana.