NZ Air Force patrol saves starving fishermen

Three Pakistanis drifted in blazing heat off the African coast for at least five days until saved by the least likely of rescuers - a Royal New Zealand Air Force plane.

The saga started about a week ago when the tiny fishing dhow broke down in the Gulf of Oman.

The little boat drifted through the Gulf's busy shipping lanes without being spotted until its supplies ran out, leaving its crew starving and thirsty for two days.

Luckily, a New Zealand Air Force Orion skimmed past while hunting terrorists and smugglers as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Danielle Coe of Air Force public relations said the boat's occupants waved at the four-engined aircraft as it sped past on Tuesday, New Zealand time.

"Usually the Orion patrols are looking for more sinister activity and a wave of arms from a vessel below is not unusual," she said. "However, previous experience was enough to convince the crew the vessel's occupants needed help." The Orion photographed the boat and circled overhead while guiding a coalition warship to its rescue.

It then continued its patrol.

The Orion skims barely 150m above the waves during its patrols, photographing up to 110 ships in the eight-hour stretch.

Warships are sent to check out the suspect vessels, which can total up to 20 each day.