Loopy lady lost at sea says Taiwanese fishermen tried to 'kill her'

Leader of pair lost at sea spouts out laundry list of spurious claims that don't stand up to scrutiny

Jennifer Appel, right, and Tasha Fuiava sit with dogs on deck of USS Ashland. (By Associated Press)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- After being lost at sea for five months and being spotted by a Taiwanese fishing vessel, which was instrumental in their rescue, the sailboat's pilot is adding attempted murder by the Taiwanese fishing crew to her long list of tall tales from her curious voyage. 

The women, Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiava, both of Honolulu, along with their dogs, set out on a voyage to sail from Hawaii to Tahiti on May 3, a distance of 1,988 miles.  Somehow, Appel claims their sole phone (not clear if satellite or cell) was lost overboard the first day at sea.

In late May, they lost their engine in bad weather, but they thought they could still sail their way to Tahiti. However after two months without progress, they started to send out distress signals, and continued to do so for 98 days, but never received a response, according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

On Oct. 24, after supposedly being lost at sea for five months, a Taiwanese fishing vessel spotted the women's crippled sailboat about 900 miles southeast of Japan, thousands of miles from their original destination of Tahiti. The crew immediately notified the U.S. Naval base in Guam, which dispatched the amphibious landing ship the USS Ashland.

Meanwhile, it was later reported that the Taiwanese fishing vessel helped to tow their crippled sailboat and allowed them on board to use their satellite phone. The U.S. rescue ship then found the stranded mariners the next day.

However, once they were taken on board the naval vessel and started speaking to the media, their story about their five-month odyssey has become fishier by the day. In the latest spin on their tall tale, during an interview with NBC News on Nov. 8, Appel took some liberties with her original account, including the role of the Taiwanese sailors:

"We were never 'lost at sea.' We knew where we were the entire time. While the media portrayed a rescue with the Taiwanese fishing vessel, they were actually the reason why we called for help,”Appel told NBC.

She told the news network that instead of maintaining the standard distance according to regulations while towing a boat, the Taiwanese fishing boat intentionally rammed against them, overpowering their much smaller craft.

"The Taiwanese fishing vessel was not planning to rescue us. They tried to kill us during the night," claims Appel.

This claim immediately begs the question why they did not immediately use their Emergency Position indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB), a device which would have notified authorities of their position within minutes. In a bizarre twist, Appel claims that she did not use the EPIRB because she felt it was "easier and safer" to use her surfboard to stealthily sneak on to the Taiwanese fishing vessel and call the Coast Guard via satellite phone. 

In an interview with the Associated Press, a retired Coast Guard finds it very hard to believe that all six communication devices reported to be on their boat could have all failed. 

Many boaters have also questioned how they could go so far off course away from Tahiti, heading to the opposite corner of the Pacific toward Japan. Appel claims that they hit a massive storm on May 3, damaging the engine and the boat's masthead. However the National Weather Service as no record of a significant storm during that period. 

Appel also claims that at one point there was a group of 20- to 30- foot tiger sharks who formed a pack, jumped out of the water, and tried to smash the boat. However, University of Hawaii professor and veteran shark researcher Kim Holland told The Toronto Star that sharks do not hunt in packs, they do not jump out of the water, the largest tiger sharks only reach 17 feet, and they are not known to attack boats repeatedly. 

In response to Appel's claims that the Taiwanese vessel tried to kill them, MOFA spokesman Andrew Lee (李憲章) told the media that according the records on the fishing boat, there were no reports of a collision with their ship and no talk of killing anyone. Lee added that he does not know why the two women have decided to make this accusation and this is "unwarranted event."

During a regularly scheduled press conference, Lee told the media that according to relevant information provided by the Taiwan Search and Rescue Center and the Fisheries Bureau, the boat that rescued them, the Fengchun No. 66 (豐春66號) on Oct. 24 was operating north of Midway Island, when they encountered the crippled sailboat. 

The two American women were immediately rescued and their sailing direction and speed was recorded. The crew of the fishing boat immediately notified the U.S. Navy and the Taiwan Search and Rescue Center.

Lee emphasized that the speed and position of the fishing vessel could not have caused a collision with their boat or put their lives in danger. We do not know why such an allegation would be made, but it is not based on reality, said Li. 

The inconsistencies and holes in Appel's account are so numerous that one blogger put together a list of 19 reasons why her story smells fishy. Snopes on Nov. 9 also reported on how implausible her latest claims are, including the supposed murder plot by the Taiwanese fishermen.