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.
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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: mark from: york pa
February 05, 2014 8:30 PM
U people sound dumb the poor man sufferd and all u can say is its a hoax he probly bit his nails and if your feet is wet u can peel ur toe nails he is probly bloated from being in salt water and exposed to heat and some peoples facal hair grows differnt and hes nit burnt cuz hes mexican poor guy now he will apaciate life better


by: tessie from: monterey ca
February 05, 2014 5:35 PM
I want to know more about the young boy that was with him and what really happened. Sounds too suspucious to me..


by: pokerface from: brazil
February 05, 2014 11:34 AM
come on!!!!! his hair looks better than mine!


by: Gayle Reinholtz from: Framingham
February 05, 2014 5:31 AM
They must of had great nail clippers there and toe nail clippers notice his hair is long than nails

In Response

by: smartass from: My house
February 05, 2014 10:54 AM
It's called biting your nails


by: Clay from: 37087
February 04, 2014 9:57 PM
NAH, as a Survival instructor for the military, this guy looks to Damn good and well fed to have been at sea for a YEAR? Beard and Hair to good as well. BS don't care what ANYONE says

In Response

by: Anonymous
February 07, 2014 11:18 PM
The clipped nails? He probably bit, tore or broke them. He's out at sea with absolutely nothing to do and you expect him to wash up with long nails.

In Response

by: Gayle Reinholtz from: Framingham
February 05, 2014 5:36 AM
Love the clipped nails!!! LOL


by: Frank Burns
February 04, 2014 3:38 PM
Why all the doubt? Apparently sea turtles are nutritious. And if it is a farce, a poor fisherman would need a team with plenty of financing helping him, to transport his boat 8,000 miles, and give him a place to hide out for a year, and keep his friend still in hiding -- don't you think after all that effort they would have thought enough to make sure he lost a lot of weight? So you see, his good condition actually goes to disprove any conspiracy here. Are people jealous maybe, that they don't look as good, even though they live in the US, with lots of food and opportunities? I don't get the doubt, unless it's for this.


by: dominant from: nj
February 04, 2014 1:53 PM
he may have contracted parasites eating raw, uncooked food. hence, reasoning for appearing bloated


by: igofdkfmsd;a from: london
February 04, 2014 12:57 PM
looks like Pi has some competition.


by: Gary from: NC
February 04, 2014 12:31 PM
How could he not be sun burned ?

In Response

by: romy from: CA
February 05, 2014 1:25 PM
people all around the world do bite there nails and eat there nails that's a pretty dumb thing to say where he got nails clippers from and his nails look all dirty and bitten not all nice like he got a manicure and clipped his nails.

In Response

by: Gayle from: Framingham
February 05, 2014 5:37 AM
where he get nail clippers???? lol

In Response

by: Polarbear52 from: Vancouver, Canada
February 04, 2014 4:30 PM
He had the cover of a nice 21 foot boat. He was not stranded on some log in the middle of the ocean.


by: J. Brown from: norcal
February 04, 2014 11:20 AM
I know that urine is thought to be semi-sterile, but there must be a lot of calories in piss, turtle blood and raw seagull wings. This fisherman does not look at all starved or emaciated. I can't wait for the book and movie. I don't think Tom Hanks can't play the lead. He's too thin.

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