Viatina-19, the world’s most expensive cow, is embodiment of Brazil’s beef export ambitions

Viatina-19, the world’s most expensive cow, is embodiment of Brazil’s beef export ambitions
Viatina-19, right, belongs to the Nelore breed, which is raised for meat, not milk, and makes up most of Brazil’s cattle stock. (AP)
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Updated 04 June 2024
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Viatina-19, the world’s most expensive cow, is embodiment of Brazil’s beef export ambitions

Viatina-19, the world’s most expensive cow, is embodiment of Brazil’s beef export ambitions

UBERABA, Brazil: Brazil has hundreds of millions of cows, but one in particular is extraordinary. Her massive, snow-white body is watched over by security cameras, a veterinarian and an armed guard.
Worth $4 million, Viatina-19 FIV Mara Moveis is the most expensive cow ever sold at auction, according to Guinness World Records. That’s three times more than the last recordholder’s price. And — at 1,100 kilograms (more than 2,400 pounds) — she’s twice as heavy as an average adult of her breed.
Along a highway through Brazil’s heartland, Viatina-19’s owners have put up two billboards praising her grandeur and beckoning ranchers, curious locals and busloads of veterinary students to make pilgrimages to see the supercow.
Climate scientists agree that people need to consume less beef, the largest agricultural source of greenhouse gasses and a driver of Amazon deforestation. But the cattle industry is a major source of Brazilian economic development and the government is striving to conquer new export markets. The world’s top beef exporter wants everyone, everywhere to eat its beef.
The embodiment of Brazil’s cattle ambitions is Viatina-19, the product of years of efforts to raise meatier cows. The country’s prizewinners are sold at high-stakes auctions — so high that wealthy ranchers share ownership. They extract the eggs and semen from champion animals, create embryos and implant them in surrogate cows that they hope will produce the next magnificent specimens.
“We’re not slaughtering elite cattle. We’re breeding them. And at the end of the line, going to feed the whole world,” one of her owners, Ney Pereira, said after arriving by helicopter at his farm in Minas Gerais state. “I think Viatina will provide that.”
The cow’s eye-popping price stems from how quickly she put on vast amounts of muscle, from her fertility and — crucially — how often she has passed those characteristics to her offspring, said Lorrany Martins, a veterinarian who is Pereira’s daughter and right hand. Breeders also value posture, hoof solidity, docility, maternal ability and beauty. Those eager to level up their livestock’s genetics pay around $250,000 for an opportunity to collect Viatina-19’s egg cells.
“She is the closest to perfection that has been attained so far,” Martins said. “She’s a complete cow, has all the characteristics that all the proprietors are looking for.”
A GRAND MATRIARCH
A commodities boom in the 2000s turbocharged Brazilian agriculture, especially with a rising China buying soy and beef. Today, agriculture’s influence extends to Brazil’s Congress and the national consciousness. Country music is booming. TV viewers can watch the massive Globo network’s seven-year campaign exalting the sector. The Cow Channel features live auctions. And Brazil, along with the US, is at the forefront of cattle genetics; it does more in-vitro fertilizations than any country in the world, said João Henrique Moreira Viana, genetic resources and biotechnology researcher at the government’s agricultural research corporation.
Viatina-19 won award after award — including “Miss South America” at the Fort Worth, Texas-based “Champion of the World” competition, a bovine version of Miss Universe where cows and bulls from different countries square off. But at 3 years old she hadn’t yet proven that her egg cells, when fertilized and implanted in a surrogate cow, would reliably produce offspring bearing her champion characteristics, said Pereira, an Internet executive who moved into elite cow breeding. He needed “a grand matriarch.”
Such cows cost so much that people buy and sell partial ownership, and Pereira’s company Napemo Agriculture paid several million reais (almost $800,000) in a 2022 auction for a 50 percent stake in Viatina-19. Another rancher kept the other half, so the two would jointly make important decisions and split revenues.
As the auctioneer banged his gavel, the speakers blasted Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds.” For Pereira, a lifelong Elvis fanatic, it was a sign.
“It gave me butterflies in the stomach,” he said. “We were new breeders. It was a bit of boldness, a bit of feeling and a bit of heart, too.”
Last year, Pereira and the other owner put a 33 percent stake in the cow up at auction. One bidder paid 7 million reais ($1.3 million), making Viatina-19’s full value break the Guinness record.
INDIA TO BRAZIL
In Brazil, 80 percent of the cows are Zebus, a subspecies originating in India with a distinctive hump and dewlap, or folds of draping neck skin. Viatina-19 belongs to the Nelore breed, which is raised for meat, not milk, and makes up most of Brazil’s stock.
The first Zebus arrived in Brazil in the latter half of the 19th century and they proved far hardier than European stock. They coped well with the sweltering tropical heat, proved resistant to parasites and gained weight faster. A prizewinning Nelore bull named Karvardi arrived from India in 1963, and some breeders still preserve cryogenically frozen doses of his semen, according to Brazil’s Zebu association. Draped in traditional Indian vestments, Karvardi’s preserved body stands in the Zebu Museum in Uberaba, the city in Brazil’s agricultural heartland where Viatina-19 lives.
Uberaba holds an annual gathering called ExpoZebu that bills itself as the world’s biggest Zebu fair. Held several weeks ago, it was a far cry from the Brazil imagined abroad. The dress code was boots, baseball caps and blue jeans. Evening concerts drew 10,000 spectators belting out their favorite country songs. But the main attraction was the daily cattle shows. Ranchers came from as far away as Zimbabwe and Indonesia. Stockmen shaved cows’ ears and the bases of their horns — the equivalent of a fresh human haircut to charm show judges and win prizes that boost an animal’s auction price.
The most prestigious auction is called Elo de Raça, and Viatina-19 has been sold at increasingly higher prices there. Searchlights shooting into the night sky on April 28 summoned the hundreds fortunate enough to receive invitations. Arthur Lira, the speaker of Congress’ Lower House, drove in followed by a car with his security detail. He was set to offer his 3-month-old calf.
“The auctions always present the best of what each person has and that spreads to other people, other breeders, and the genetics evolve,” said Lira, who ranches in Brazil’s northeast.
As the first cow entered the paddock, speakers blared Queen’s “We Are the Champions.” But that cow was a mere appetizer before the auction of this year’s starlet, Donna, and three of her clones. The final sale price put her total value at 15.5 million reais ($3 million). Presenting Donna, the announcer said that each of the four produces 80 egg cells a month – quadruple an average Nelore – and called them “a factory.”
“Donna shows where we are with the Nelore breed and where we will go!” he shouted.
NEW MARKETS
Showstoppers like Donna and Viatina-19 are rarities in Brazil, where there are more than 230 million cows, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. It has the world’s largest beef cattle population, and that’s problematic; of the nation’s total greenhouse emissions, 86 percent are linked to its food production, mainly for beef and soy, according to a World Bank report published last month. Huge swaths of Amazon rainforest have been slashed to create pasture, releasing carbon stored in trees, and cows belch methane that’s far worse for the climate.
One of the best ways to cut livestock emissions is reducing cows’ age of slaughter, said Rodrigo Gomes, a beef cattle researcher at the government’s agricultural research corporation. Elite cows can gain weight fast enough to be slaughtered significantly younger.
Others say genetic improvements are helpful but limited ways to reduce warming. Simpler, more effective measures include planting better grass for grazing and regularly moving cattle from pasture to pasture, said Beto Veríssimo, an agronomist who co-founded an environmental nonprofit called Imazon. Productivity in Brazil could be at least three times higher, said Veríssimo, who sits on the consultation committee of meatpacking giant JBS’ Amazon fund. He receives no compensation.
Ranching is here to stay; it’s an economic engine in Brazil, which exported more than 2 million tons of beef in both 2022 and 2023, the most since records began in 1997. The overwhelming majority goes to developing nations, especially China, thanks to rising incomes that have put beef within reach. It’s partly why agriculture and livestock activity grew 3.6 percent from 2015 to 2023, compared to 0.8 percent for services and a contraction in industry of 0.6 percent, according to calculations by LCA Consultores based on official data.
President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has been working to open new markets. Last month, Lula met Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan, home to the premium, marbled Wagyu beef; he urged his counterpart to taste Brazilian meat and become a believer.
“Please,” he said, addressing his vice president at the event, “take Prime Minister Fumio to eat steak at the best restaurant in Sao Paulo so that, the following week, he starts importing our beef.”
And in April, Lula visited one of the 38 Brazilian meatpacking plants that China authorized to send beef there. He boasted about the billions in revenue they will provide. Lula’s administration last month declared Brazil totally free of foot-and-mouth disease, saying it will request recognition from the World Organization for Animal Health in August. That would open the world’s more restrictive — and lucrative — markets to Brazilian beef, Vice President Geraldo Alckmin said at the time.
SEND IN THE CLONES
Just down the highway from the Elo de Raça auction stands what appears an ordinary farmhouse. But inside, employees in white coats extract DNA from cows’ tail hair and use it to create embryos. Behind that laboratory, sprawling hills of pasture are dotted with some 500 surrogates pregnant with clones.
“All those are rental bellies,” said Geneal Animal Genetics and Biotechnology’s commercial director, Paulo Cerantola, motioning to a hilltop herd as his truck rumbled along a dirt road.
It led to a stable beside a small pen where a cloned calf lay in the sunshine. Born the day before, it was still too unsure of its legs to stand, and a 2-day-old clone set an example by ambling about gamely. Another born 20 minutes earlier by cesarean section was huddled on hay in the rear of a stall, pressing backwards against the wall and unsettled by this strange new world.
Perhaps one-third of fetal clones survive; the pregnancies can fail or a clone can be born with deformities that require euthanasia, Cerantola said. Clones of Viatina-19 are due in a few months, he said.
But some ranchers wouldn’t even want a big herd of her clones. High-maintenance cows like Viatina-19 aren’t profitable on a commercial scale because they couldn’t meet their energy needs from grass alone, said P.J. Budler, a cattle judge and international business manager for Trans Ova Genetics, an Iowa-based company focused on improving the bovine gene pool.
“For the environment and the resources that it would take to run a cow like (Viatina-19), she fits the mold ideally, but she’s not the answer for all cattle everywhere,” he said.
Another Texas cattleman who traveled to ExpoZebu in 2023 to scope out the genetics scene was more critical, calling Viatina-19, and cows like her, “man-made freaks.”
“In my opinion, she needs a bullet in her head. She’s poison for the industry,” Grant Vassberg said by phone. “We still need cows to be efficient on grass. That’s how you feed the world.”
Viatina-19’s owner, Pereira, said she gets special treatment to boost egg cell production, but would thrive were she put to pasture — where almost all his elite cattle feed.
Meanwhile, Viatina-19 is pregnant for the first time, which helps maintain hormone cycles, Pereira said, and he’s eyeing expansion; her egg cells have sold to Bolivian buyers and he wants to export to the United Arab Emirates, India and the US.
“If she is the best in the world – not just her price, but I believe she is the world’s best – we need to share her around the world,” Pereira said.
His veterinarian daughter, Martins, is looking even farther ahead.
“I hope she is the basis for an even better animal in the future, decades from now,” she said.


Wedding party resumes for son of Asia’s richest man

Wedding party resumes for son of Asia’s richest man
Updated 1 min 46 sec ago
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Wedding party resumes for son of Asia’s richest man

Wedding party resumes for son of Asia’s richest man
  • It follows a formal ceremony and party the previous evening attended by the likes of socialite Kim Kardashian, Tony Blair and John Cena
MUMBAI: Lavish wedding celebrations for the son of Asia’s richest man resumed Saturday with a star-studded guestlist including Hollywood celebrities, global business leaders and two former British prime ministers.
Billionaire tycoon Mukesh Ambani’s youngest son Anant and fiancee Radhika Merchant, both 29, are tying the knot over the weekend in the financial capital Mumbai following months of pre-marriage parties that have set a new benchmark in matrimonial extravagance.
Saturday will see a blessing ceremony during which the world’s rich and famous will greet and pay their respects to the couple at the wedding venue, a 16,000-capacity convention center owned by the Ambani family’s conglomerate.
It follows a formal ceremony and party the previous evening attended by the likes of socialite Kim Kardashian, actor John Cena and former British leaders Tony Blair and Boris Johnson.
Kardashian shared videos on Instagram showing the professional influencer and her sister Khloe preparing for Friday night’s festivities adorned in traditional Indian dresses and ornate jewelry.
Footage shared by the hosts showed hundreds of revellers dancing enthusiastically inside the venue wearing traditional Indian dress.
FIFA boss Gianni Infantino, Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan and Samsung chairman Jay Y. Lee were among the hundreds of other famous figures from the business, sporting and entertainment worlds to make an appearance.
“Great wedding!” China’s ambassador to India Xu Feihong wrote on social media platform X along with footage of the couple from inside the venue.
“Best wishes to the new couple and double happiness!“
This weekend’s celebrations end Sunday with a reception party and cap months of extravagant pre-wedding parties.
Earlier events this year included a party at the Ambanis’ ancestral home where a purpose-built Hindu temple was unveiled, and private performances by R&B star Rihanna and Canada’s Justin Bieber.
Guests at that gala included Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and former US president Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka, along with a who’s who of India’s sporting and entertainment worlds.
In June, the couple embarked on a four-day Mediterranean cruise along with 1,200 guests, with singer Katy Perry performing at a masquerade ball at a French chateau in Cannes.
The Backstreet Boys, US rapper Pitbull and Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli also provided entertainment.
Anant’s father Mukesh is chairman of Reliance Industries, a family-founded conglomerate that has grown into India’s biggest company by market cap.
The patriarch is the world’s 11th richest person with a fortune of more than $123 billion, according to Forbes, and is no stranger to making a statement when it comes to family marriages.
He held the most expensive wedding in India to date for his daughter in 2018, which reportedly cost $100 million and saw US singer Beyonce perform.
The family’s lucrative interests include retail partnerships with Armani and other luxury brands, more than 40 percent of India’s mobile phone market and an Indian Premier League cricket team.
His 27-floor family home Antilia is one of Mumbai’s most prominent landmarks, reportedly costing more than $1 billion to build and with a permanent staff of 600 servants.
Merchant is the daughter of well-known pharmaceutical moguls.

Alec Baldwin weeps in court as judge announces involuntary manslaughter case is dismissed midtrial

Alec Baldwin weeps in court as judge announces involuntary manslaughter case is dismissed midtrial
Updated 13 July 2024
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Alec Baldwin weeps in court as judge announces involuntary manslaughter case is dismissed midtrial

Alec Baldwin weeps in court as judge announces involuntary manslaughter case is dismissed midtrial

SANTA FE, N.M.: A New Mexico judge on Friday brought a sudden and stunning end to the involuntary manslaughter case against Alec Baldwin, dismissing it in the middle of the actor’s trial and saying it cannot be filed again.
Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer dismissed the case based on the misconduct of police and prosecutors over the withholding of evidence from the defense in the 2021 shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the film “Rust.”
Baldwin cried, hugged his two attorneys, gestured to the front of the court, then turned to hug his crying wife Hilaria, the mother of seven of his eight children, holding the embrace for 12 seconds. He climbed into an SUV outside the Santa Fe courthouse without speaking to the media.
“The late discovery of this evidence during trial has impeded the effective use of evidence in such a way that it has impacted the fundamental fairness of the proceedings,” Marlowe Sommer said. “If this conduct does not rise to the level of bad faith it certainly comes so near to bad faith to show signs of scorching.”
The evidence that sank the case, revealed during the trial’s second day of testimony Thursday, was the existence of ammunition that was brought into the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office in March by a man who said it could be related to Hutchins’ killing. Prosecutors said they deemed the ammo unrelated and unimportant, while Baldwin’s lawyers alleged they “buried” it. The defense filed one of many motions they had made to dismiss the case over evidence issues. All the others were rejected. But this one took.
The judge’s decision ends the criminal culpability of the 66-year-old Baldwin after a nearly three-year saga that began when a revolver he was pointing at Hutchins during a rehearsal went off, killing her and wounding director Joel Souza.
“Our goal from the beginning was to seek justice for Halyna Hutchins, and we fought to get this case tried on its merits,” District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said in a statement. “We are disappointed that the case did not get to the jury.”
The career of the “Hunt for Red October” and “30 Rock” star and frequent “Saturday Night Live” host — who has been a household name for more than three decades — had been put into doubt, and he could have gotten 18 months in prison if convicted.
Baldwin and other producers still face civil lawsuits from Hutchins’ parents and sister.
Prosecutors did get one conviction for Hutchins’ death. Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, the film’s armorer, was sentenced to 18 months in prison on an involuntary manslaughter conviction, which she is now appealing.
Her attorney Jason Bowles said Friday that he would be filing a motion to dismiss his client’s case as well.
“The judge upheld the integrity of the system in dismissing the case,” he told The Associated Press in an email.
Marlowe Sommer put a pause on the trial earlier Friday and sent the jury home for the weekend so she could spend the day hearing testimony and arguments on the motion to dismiss.
Troy Teske, a retired police officer and a close friend of Gutierrez-Reed’s father Thell Reed who is a gun coach and armorer on movies, was the person who brought the ammunition into the sheriff’s office in March on the same day the guilty verdict in her case was read.
Teske and the ammo he said might be relevant had been known to authorities since a few weeks after the shooting, and special prosecutor Kari Morrissey had met with him last year, but they determined it was not relevant.
The evidence was collected but crucially was not put into the same file as the rest of the “Rust” case, and was not presented to Baldwin’s defense team when they examined the ballistics evidence in April. They defense would argue that they should have had a chance to weigh in on the evidence’s importance, and that the prosecution “buried” it.
The issue came up during the defense questioning Thursday of sheriff’s crime scene technician Marissa Poppell, who acknowledged receiving the ammo, a moment that the judge watched on a police supervisor’s body camera on Friday.
Special prosecutor Kari Morrissey argued that the emergence of the ammunition was part of an attempt by Reed to shift blame away from his daughter.
“This is a wild goose chase that has no evidentiary value whatsoever,” Morrissey told the judge during the hearing. “This is just a man trying to protect his daughter.”
The case’s other special prosecutor, Erlinda Ocampo Johnson, resigned from the case earlier Friday. Baldwin attorney Alex Spiro asked whether she had resigned based on the evidence issues being discussed. Morrissey said she believed it was over the holding of the public hearing itself.
Speaking outside the courthouse doors, Morrissey said she respects the judge’s decision but that there was no reason to believe the undisclosed evidence in question was related to the set of “Rust.”
The trial had barely begun when it was brought to a close. Prosecutors had only started to make their case, and none of the eyewitnesses from the set had testified yet.
Baldwin’s younger brother Stephen Baldwin and older sister Elizabeth Keuchler, both actors themselves, sat behind him in the gallery next to his wife each day of the trial, which was streamed live by AP and Court TV. Reporters from both coasts filled the small courtroom, and had stations outside for arrivals and departures of trial players.
The judge dealt a serious blow to the prosecution’s case when on the eve of the trial on Monday when she ruled that Baldwin’s role as a producer on the film was not relevant and had to be left out.
Still, prosecutors forged ahead, painting Baldwin in their openings as a reckless performer who “played make-believe” while flouting basic gun safety rules.
Baldwin’s attorney Spiro argued that he did only what actors always do on the “Rust” set, and that the necessary safety steps must be taken before a gun reaches a performer’s hand.


Ryanair ‘flight from hell’ makes emergency landing after mid-air mass brawl

Ryanair ‘flight from hell’ makes emergency landing after mid-air mass brawl
Updated 11 July 2024
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Ryanair ‘flight from hell’ makes emergency landing after mid-air mass brawl

Ryanair ‘flight from hell’ makes emergency landing after mid-air mass brawl
  • Fight erupted after one of the passengers refused to swap seats
  • Pilots made emergency landing in Marrakech after situation escalated and one women became ill

LONDON: A Ryanair flight from Agadir to London was forced to make an emergency landing in Marrakech last week after a mass brawl erupted between passengers.

“It was like the flight from hell. And it all escalated from that one passenger wanting to change seats,” an unnamed passenger reportedly told the media.

Witnesses said that the brawl started shortly after takeoff from the Moroccan city when a man in his twenties asked a woman to swap seats so he could sit next to his family.

The woman refused to change seats since she was already sitting with her daughter, prompting the man to begin threatening her.

The altercation led to the intervention of the woman’s husband, who started defending his wife, leading to the brawl. Other family members quickly joined in.

Video footage shared online shows passengers screaming, pushing and throwing punches in the aisle as cabin crew attempted to intervene.

“They were trying to punch each other. One of the families was part of a larger group so other passengers started to join in,” the fellow passage added.

In the middle of the drama, another person onboard the plane fell ill and had to be given oxygen mid-flight.

As the situation escalated, the pilots decided to divert the flight and make an emergency landing in Marrakech, where the police intervened to offload the “disruptive” passengers.

The ill passenger was also treated but was determined to continue her flight. She refused to disembark, requiring authorities to remove her, causing further delays.

By the time the situation was resolved, the cabin crew had reached their permitted flying hours, forcing the flight to be postponed to the following day.

A Ryanair spokesperson confirmed the incident, saying that the flight had to be postponed after a “small group of passengers became disruptive.”

They added that a series of events led to the rescheduling of the flight’s departure and apologized to customers for the diversion.


At least 65 pilot whales die in Scottish mass stranding

At least 65 pilot whales die in Scottish mass stranding
Updated 11 July 2024
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At least 65 pilot whales die in Scottish mass stranding

At least 65 pilot whales die in Scottish mass stranding
  • Medics found there to be about 77 animals high up the beach, having evidently been stranded for several hours already
  • 12 of them were still alive

LONDON: At least 65 long-finned pilot whales have died after being stranded on an island off the north coast of Scotland, a rescue charity said on Thursday, in one of the largest mass strandings in Britain in recent times.
The British Divers Marine Life Rescue said it had been alerted to the stranding earlier in the day and sent medics to a beach on Sanday, a Scottish island in the Orkney archipelago.
“On arrival, the medics found there to be about 77 animals high up the beach, having evidently been stranded for several hours already. Sadly, only 12 of them (were) still alive at this point,” the charity said in a statement.
Whales can get stranded on shore for a range of reasons, such as when they lose their way or get trapped by tides, but scientists say there is no single definitive reason behind the phenomenon, which has been recorded throughout history.
Pilot whales, in particular, have close social bonds and when one member of a pod gets into difficulties others often follow them, resulting in mass strandings.
Almost a year ago a similar event involving pilot whales occurred on Lewis, another Scottish island located to the west of the mainland, when at least 55 whales died or were euthanized. A mass stranding also occurred in Western Australia earlier this year.


Woman swept to sea while swimming at a Japanese beach is rescued 37 hours later and 80 kilometers away

Woman swept to sea while swimming at a Japanese beach is rescued 37 hours later and 80 kilometers away
Updated 11 July 2024
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Woman swept to sea while swimming at a Japanese beach is rescued 37 hours later and 80 kilometers away

Woman swept to sea while swimming at a Japanese beach is rescued 37 hours later and 80 kilometers away
  • The woman was spotted by a cargo ship early Wednesday, off the southern tip of Boso Peninsula
  • She was lucky to have survived despite the dangers of heat stroke under the sun, hypothermia at night or being hit by a ship in the dark

TOKYO: A Chinese woman who was swept out to sea while swimming at a Japanese beach was rescued 37 hours later after drifting in a swimming ring more than 80 kilometers in the Pacific Ocean, officials said Thursday.
Japan’s coast guard launched a search for the woman, identified only as a Chinese national in her 20s, after receiving a call Monday night from her friend saying she had disappeared while swimming at Shimoda, about 200 kilometers southwest of Tokyo.
The woman was spotted by a cargo ship early Wednesday, about 36 hours after she disappeared, off the southern tip of Boso Peninsula, the coast guard said.
The cargo ship asked a passing LPG tanker, the Kakuwa Maru No. 8, to help. Two of its crew members jumped into the sea and rescued the woman, officials said. She was airlifted by a coast guard helicopter to land, they said.
The woman was slightly dehydrated but was in good health and walked away after being examined at a nearby hospital, the officials said.
The coast guard said she had drifted more than 80 kilometers and was lucky to have survived despite the dangers of heat stroke under the sun, hypothermia at night or being hit by a ship in the dark.