News / Asia

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

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, Feb. 3, 2014.
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, Feb. 3, 2014.
VOA News
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 kilometers 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.

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.

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by: spongey from: NYC
February 19, 2014 11:34 AM
I'm not buying it. He doesn't look like he spent a year at sea. He should be gaunt. Fishy story.


by: Dr hw looi from: Malaysia
February 12, 2014 8:33 AM
After more than 4 weeks he should start to show signs of Vitamin C deficiency i. e. Scurvy. But he looks too well to have been out at sea for more than a year. Sun induced pigmentation should also have developed after such a long time.


by: mirella from: California
February 11, 2014 5:57 PM
People need to Stop freaking Judging. Everyone is so judgmental now a days... It's sad. God does this so those who have little faith believe, that b holding yourself by the hand of God our lord... He can make miracles in our lives. So everybody shut up and keep all you negative comments to yourself. This man survived, I think eh cares less if people believe him or not.


by: NopeNotAgain
February 09, 2014 3:54 PM
Well when I first read a brief post about this man and saw his pic I called bs. Here it is days later and I decided to read as much as I can about it and I'm still calling bs. Maybe he was stuck at sea but for 13 months and having to put up with some major storms. His younger partner didn't survive because he didn't want to eat raw bird. They didn't have any matches to start a fire to cook the birds? His story is a little suspicious and when he was found on land he was naked? his hair isn't bleached out from the sun, he survived a summer on a boat with no sufficient access to water and food yet the teen (24 year old) only survived 4 months. With him clean shaven he still looks the same. I'm not saying that he wasn't at sea for awhile but I'm doubting that it was for 13 months surviving on turtle blood, rain water and piss. My ancestors travelled by motor less boats all over the seas but this man's story isn't doing it for me. His boat looks like it should've flipped over in the raging seas and not just float away. Hair grows about 6 inches in a year and his hair is shorter than that in is photo. When his motor first died why didn't he and the young man try to head back home instead of allowing themselves to drift away? How far off of the coast would they have to go in order to shark fish? turtle blood isn't scarce at sea but fish itself is and you're a fisherman? Looks like he made his adventure with a blue metal equipment box aboard his boat. Which he claimed to use to shield him from the sun...that would shield you and heat you up at the same time right? I think he went to go fishing with this guy and killed him. Whether or not it was his intention or if something happened to trigger him to do it while they were fishing is up in the air. I think they went fishing, he killed the guy, he hid out for a while maybe not at sea but somewhere else. Things were starting to get "hot" for him and he had to try to find refuge somewhere else and maybe during that time he spent most of his time at sea before landing where he did. If people shot anymore holes through this man's story they would only be a corner left. Just drinking turtle's blood but not eating any part of the turtle? The overwhelming access to turtle blood and not fish baffles me. Surely the young man would've ate raw fish it's just sushi and lots of fishermen eat some of the catch raw. How did he catch the birds? So many questions and not enough answers.


by: John from: Us
February 09, 2014 2:30 AM
This man reminds me of Odysseus


by: Ed from: Us
February 08, 2014 3:51 AM
That would put him in the middle of all the horrible storms and tsunamis for the past year which have been numerous.


by: RB from: OREGON
February 07, 2014 5:14 AM
He has a dishonest look in his eyes - as if he were hiding something. What did he do with Wilson?!


by: Wayne from: Louisiana
February 06, 2014 8:07 AM
WOW, this dude is an amazing fella if this story is true. My belief is that irs very possible to survive such a horrowing un-wanted trip across the southern Pacific ocean. The man above has good plans for him. Im so sorry for his young friend that didnt make it. Congrats to this man tho.


by: Michael from: Johnson
February 06, 2014 4:27 AM
We'll you can tell the authorites that "Jose Salvador" can see a lot of transparency in his own stories and isn't too happy about it.


by: malone from: australia
February 06, 2014 4:12 AM
Why are you guys fixated on his fingernails? Ive see hobos with better nails than that. I will admit he looks a bit chunky though. Could be from malnutrition. All you have to do is look in those eyes and you know he has been on a journey. Im just gonna say it, that dude is a survivor, straight up. Maybe he will someday admit that he ate the other dude. So what? Id eat him too. When a person gets hungry enough, believe me they will eat anything, a-ny-thing!

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