"It felt like we had made it back to our families," the four Sri Lankan fishermen, adrift for 20 grueling days at sea described the 'kind' Maldives coast guard.
Sri Lanka government had officially enlisted the assistance of the Maldives coast guard after the fishermen went missing shortly after departing the neighbouring country of December 24.
Maldives coast guard had said the adrift vessel was found 153 miles off the coast of Haa Dhaal Atoll Maknunudhoo island in the wee hours of Thursday morning. One of the four crew members found on-board was reportedly weak from the ordeal.
The fishermen were greeted by Sri Lankan deputy sports minister H.M.M Harees and Sri Lankan high commissioner to Maldives Major General (Retd) B.R.W.M.R.A.B Thoradeniya upon their arrival in the capital Male.
One could almost see the relief on the face of the fishermen upon laying eyes on a fellow national. It took a little bit of time for the four Tamil speaking fishermen to share their ordeal with the eagerly waiting local media.
The four set sail on December 24, planning the trip with enough food and water to last five days. Once they began to run out, the four decided to head back to their homeland. But what came next was unimaginable as the four lost course, wandered aimlessly in the vast Indian ocean before they finally ran out fuel.
It had been days since they had used up the little food they set out with, but carefully rationed the water to hydrate themselves just once a day to buy them a few more days.
But two weeks into their nightmarish ordeal, they finally exhausted the water. The four, each over 50 years of age, suffering from malnutrition and weak from dehydration survived by eating fish which they caught and dried under the baking sun.
"The first thing they [Maldives coast guard] did was to offer something for us to eat. We were so happy. We finally had hope," one of fishermen described the relief on being rescued almost three weeks after being lost at sea.
"We really have no words to express our gratitude," the tearful fishermen said of the "kindness" of the Maldives coast guard.
"We can never repay their kindness."
Thoradeniya echoed the gratitude to the Maldives coast guard and the government for honouring the close bilateral relations between the two countries at a time of need.
"The Maldives coast guard under the guidance of president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom had carried out a massive operation to find our fishermen. They continued the eight day operation and did not let up until they found the boat. We express our sincere gratitude to the Maldives coast guard for treating this as their own," Thoradeniya said.
"This also shows that Maldives holds humanity in the highest regard. I believe such incidents bring to light the close relations between the two countries. This is message to the rest of the world and an example to the other countries in the region."
The governments are now engaged in discussions to send the rescued fishermen back home. According to the high commissioner, the Maldives coast guard could handover the fishermen to the Sri Lankan navy outside Maldives waters or fly them home.