1 Feb 2014

Man washes up on Pacific atoll 'after 16 months adrift'

8:17 am on 1 February 2014

An emaciated man whose boat washed up on a remote Pacific atoll claims he survived 16 months adrift on the Pacific, floating more than 12,500 kilometres from Mexico, a researcher says.

The man was discovered by locals on Thursday when his 7.32-metre fibreglass boat with propellerless engines floated onto the reef at Ebon Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

Norwegian anthropology student Ola Fjeldstad, who is doing research on the atoll, said the man, dressed only in a pair of ragged underpants, claims he left Mexico for El Salvador in September 2012 with a companion, who died at sea several months ago.

The long-haired bearded man speaks only Spanish and said his name was Jose Ivan, the researcher said.

"His condition isn't good, but he's getting better," Ola Fjeldstad said. "The boat is really scratched up and looks like it has been in the water for a long time."

Jose Ivan indicated to the Norwegian student 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 Mr Ivan suggested he caught turtles and birds with his bare hands. There was a turtle on the boat when it landed at Ebon.

Mr Fjeldstad said the Marshall Islanders who found Mr Ivan took him to the main island on the atoll to meet Mayor Ione de Brum, who put in a call to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Majuro.

Officials at the Foreign Ministry said on Friday they were waiting to get more details and for the man to be brought to Majuro.

The government airline's only plane that can land at Ebon is currently down for maintenance and is not expected to return to service until Tuesday at the earliest, with officials considering sending a boat to pick up the castaway.

"He's staying at the local council house and a family is feeding him," said Ola Fjeldstad, who added that the man had a basic health check and was found to have low blood pressure.

Stories of survival in the vast Pacific are not uncommon, AFP reports. In 2006, three Mexicans made international headlines when they were discovered drifting in the middle of the ocean in their stricken boat, nine months after setting out on a shark-fishing expedition.

And in 1992, two fishermen from Kiribati were at sea for 177 days before coming ashore in Samoa.