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Man 'lost at sea' for a year returns home to El Salvador

© afp

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-02-12

A fisherman who says he was lost at sea for more than a year has arrived home to El Salvador to a frenzy of media attention and a public eager to hear the details of his incredible story.

Jose Salvador Alvarenga allegedly crossed 6,500 miles (10,500 kilometres) of the Pacific from Mexico to the Marshall Islands in a small boat, surviving on raw fish, turtles and bird blood.

As he was unloaded from an ambulance late on Tuesday, he answered a question shouted from the crowd: How do you feel? “Happy to have arrived,” he said.

But when handed the microphone at the San Salvador airport, Alvarenga could only cover his face with his hands.

Wearing a dark blue T-shirt, khaki trousers and white tennis shoes, the 37-year-old left the airport in a wheelchair and was taken by ambulance to the National Hospital San Rafael.

Alvarenga’s story stunned the world when he washed up on the Ebon atoll almost two weeks ago, appearing robust and barely sunburned after more than a year at sea. But he had started out a much larger man, and doctors found that he was swollen and in pain from the ordeal, suffering from dehydration.

Alvarenga said he had been working in a fishing village on the Pacific coast of Mexico’s southern Chiapas state. A man with his nickname, “Cirilo”, had been registered as missing with civil defense officials there who said a small fishing boat carrying two men – the other named Ezequiel Cordoba – disappeared during bad weather on November 17, 2012, and no trace of them or the craft was ever found despite a two-week search.

Cordoba died after about a month when he couldn’t eat the raw fish and turtles, Alvarenga has said.


Photos from the Marshall Islands published by Britain’s Telegraph newspaper showed that the boat Alvarenga purportedly arrived in bore the hand-lettered name of the Chiapas fishing cooperative, Camaroneros de la Costa, for which Alvarenga said he worked in Costa Azul, near Tonala.

The photos also showed a large plastic cooler that Alvarenga purportedly used to shelter himself from the sun and sea.

The castaway’s father, Jose Ricardo Orellana, who owns a store and flour mill in the seaside Salvadoran town, has said his son first went to sea at age 14. “The sea was his thing,” Orellana, 65, said last week after learning Alvarenga’s story.

His mother, Maria Julia Alvarenga, 59, said her son always had unusual strength and resilience.

His 14-year-old daughter, Fatima, made an archway of palms for the front door of the family home in the fishing village of Garita Palmera and hung a sign proclaiming “Welcome”. But she does not remember ever seeing her father, who left El Salvador to fish in Mexico when she was just over a year old.

“The story of Jose is one of faith, but also of a fight to live,” the foreign minister said Tuesday night. “A story of solidarity and reunions.”

(FRANCE 24 with AP)


Date created : 2014-02-12