Lost at Sea for a Year, Man Washes Up on Marshall Islands

A 37-year-old fisherman from El Salvador has washed ashore in the Marshall Islands, where he told authorities he survived a 13-month journey across most of the Pacific Ocean by eating raw turtles and drinking his own urine.

Jose Salvador Alvarenga said he set sail from southern Mexico in December 2012 for what was supposed to be a one-day shark-fishing expedition. When his 7-meter fiberglass boat lost power, he claims that he began drifting, and kept drifting, until he landed nearly 11,000 km away. Authorities have not confirmed the story.

He was found last week on the beach - almost completely naked and hungry, but in relatively good shape, by two women on the tiny atoll of Ebon in the southern Marshall Islands. Longtime Marshall Islands resident and filmmaker Jack Niedenthal interviewed Alvarenga Monday for CNN.

On Tuesday, he described Alvarenga's condition to VOA. "When he arrived, he appeared very bloated, he's got a very big beard and shaggy hair... he looks exactly like Tom Hanks in Castaway," he said.

Niedenthal said that Alvarenga was initially very hesitant to speak with the media about his ordeal. But he eventually opened up, describing an almost unbelievable story.

Jose Salvador Alvarenga sits on a couch in Majuro in the Marshall Islands, after he was rescued from being washed ashore on the tiny atoll of Ebon in the Pacific Ocean on Feb. 3, 2014. /AP Jose Salvador Alvarenga sits on a couch in Majuro in the Marshall Islands, after he was rescued from being washed ashore on the tiny atoll of Ebon in the Pacific Ocean on Feb. 3, 2014. /AP

Alvarenga claims he was able to survive by eating the raw flesh of sea birds and fish.

Niedenthal said Alvarenga's young companion, a teenager named Xiguel, was unable to survive because he could not handle the diet. "Every time the young man would take a bird to his mouth, he would throw up. So he couldn't stomach that, and after a while, like I said, four months, he died, and he just had to throw him overboard," he added.

Niedenthal said Alvarenga allegedly drank turtle blood, and sometimes his own urine, in order to stay alive. "He said the biggest thing was the water. When there wasn't water, he just drank his urine a little bit at a time, just to keep himself somewhat hydrated. And then he said it would pour rain and the boat would fill up with rain water, and that's what he would drink," he explained.

Niedenthal said Alvarenga's initial reluctance to talk to the media and his state of exhaustion following his rescue lead him to believe the story is not a hoax.

There is a precedent for such a journey. In 2006, three Mexican fisherman were rescued near the islands after spending about nine months adrift.

Alvarenga says he wants to return to Mexico, and diplomats from the United States, Mexico and El Salvador are discussing his relocation.

Members of his family, in Silver Spring, Maryland, expressed relief at his rescue. While some had given him up for dead, his mother, who remains in El Salvador, insisted he was alive.

Alvarenga said while on his journey he considered committing suicide several times, but survived by praying to God, thinking about his family, and dreaming of eating his favorite food -- tortillas.

VOA News / Feb. 05, 2014 07:58 KST