An emaciated man whose boat washed up on a remote Pacific atoll this week claims he survived 16 months adrift, floating more than 12,500km from Mexico, a researcher said.
The man, with long hair and beard, was discovered on Thursday when his 24ft fibreglass boat with propeller-less engines floated onto the reef at Ebon Atoll and he was spotted by two locals.
“His condition isn’t good, but he’s getting better,” said Ola Fjeldstad, a Norwegian anthropology student doing research on Ebon, the southernmost outpost of the Marshalls.
Fjeldstad said the man, dressed only in a pair of ragged underpants, claims he left Mexico for El Salvador in Sept 2012 with a companion, who died at sea several months ago.
Details of his survival are sketchy, Fjeldstad added, as the man only speaks Spanish, but he said his name was Jose Ivan.
“The boat is really scratched up and looks like it has been in the water for a long time,” said the researcher from Ebon.
Ivan indicated to Fjeldstad that he survived by eating turtles, birds and fish and drinking turtle blood when there was no rain.
No fishing gear was on the boat and Ivan suggested he caught turtles and birds with his bare hands. There was a turtle on the boat when it landed at Ebon.
Stories of survival in the vast Pacific are not uncommon. In 2006, three Mexicans made international headlines when they were discovered drifting, also in a small fibreglass boat near the Marshall Islands, in the middle of the ocean in their stricken boat, nine months after setting out on a shark-fishing expedition.
They survived on a diet of rainwater, raw fish and seabirds, with their hope kept alive by reading the bible.
And in 1992, two fishermen from Kiribati were at sea for 177 days before coming ashore in Samoa.
According to Fjeldstad, the Marshall Islanders who found Ivan took him to the main island on the atoll — which has only one phone line at the local council house, and no internet — to meet mayor Ione de Brum, who put in a call to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Majuro.
Officials there are waiting for the man to be brought to Majuro.
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