Castaway wants to return to Mexico after Pacific ordeal

Media caption,
Video footage showed the man being helped to walk off a boat

A castaway, who says he spent more than a year adrift in the Pacific, has asked to be taken home, after washing ashore in the Marshall Islands.

"I want to get back to Mexico," Jose Salvador Alvarenga reportedly said as he was taken to the islands' capital, Majuro, for a medical examination.

Mr Alvarenga said he left Mexico with a friend for a trip in a fibre-glass boat in December 2012.

He was found by people living on the island of Ebon Atoll on Thursday.

He had initially identified himself to authorities as Jose Ivan.

The castaway told the local deputy US ambassador Norman Barth, who was acting as an interpreter for Marshall Islands authorities, that he was originally from El Salvador, but had been living in Mexico for 15 years before his epic voyage.

The US ambassador, Thomas Ambruster, who was also at that interview, told BBC Mundo: "I understand that Mexican authorities have been contacted at the Mexican embassy in Manila (Philippines) and so one of those officials is on his way, or her way, to interview him, because the boat came from Mexico and I believe there was a Mexican national on board, who unfortunately perished at sea."

'Bad shape'

Emaciated and wearing only ragged underpants, Mr Alvarenga washed ashore when his boat floated onto a reef at the small, isolated island.

He apparently survived the 8,000 km (5,000-mile) ordeal by catching fish, birds and turtles with his bare hands.

He said his travelling companion died at sea many months ago.

No details have emerged about how the 7m (24ft) boat ran into trouble or how his companion died.

Ola Fjeldstad, a Norwegian anthropology student on Ebon Atoll, told the BBC how the castaway was apparently discovered: "A group of us got into the boat... and went over to meet him.

"And when we got there we first found his boat, which was... grown over with shells and other sea animals. It had a live baby bird, a dead turtle, some turtle shells, and fish leftovers inside.

"He was in really bad shape in terms of strength and in terms of mental health."

As he boarded a Marshall Islands patrol vessel to Majuro on Sunday, he said: "I feel bad. I am so far away. I don't know where I am or what happened."

Mr Alvarenga, who only speaks Spanish, had been communicating with Ione deBrum, Ebon Atoll's mayor, by drawing pictures, AFP news agency reported.

Marshall Islands immigration chief Damien Jacklick said authorities were still gathering information and the foreign affairs department planned to contact overseas officials for his repatriation.

Three Mexican fishermen were rescued off the Marshall Islands in August 2006 after what they said was about nine months drifting across the Pacific Ocean.

They survived on rain water, seabirds and fish.

Castaways from Kiribati, to the south, frequently find land in the Marshall islands after ordeals of weeks or months at sea in small boats.

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