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.

You May Like

Photogallery Belgian Security Measures Foreshadow New Normal for Europe

Rising threat of terrorism, disaffected Muslim populations and open borders, along with refugee, migrant crisis, are creating perfect storm for Europe, which some analysts fear continent is ill-suited to weather

Competing Claims of Responsibility for Mali Hotel Attack

Malian authorities ask public for help in identifying gunmen killed in attack, amid conflicting claims of responsibility from multiple jihadist groups active in the country

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments page of 3
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!
Comments page of 3

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs