MAJURO – A Mexican man who claims to have survived 16 months adrift in the Pacific was regaining strength on a remote Marshall Islands atoll on Saturday as a navy ship headed there to pick him up.
The emaciated castaway, who identified himself as Jose Ivan when he washed up on Ebon Atoll on Thursday, told his rescuers he set sail from Mexico for El Salvador in September 2012 but had been adrift ever since.
“We’ve been feeding him nutritious island food and he’s getting better,” Ebon Mayor Ione de Brum said in a phone interview from the tiny country’s southernmost cluster of coral islands.
“He has pain in both knees so he cannot stand up by himself. Otherwise, he’s OK,” the mayor said.
The man, sporting long hair and a beard and dressed only in ragged underpants, was discovered when his 8-meter-long fiberglass boat with propellerless engine ran aground on the reef at Ebon Atoll and he was spotted by two residents.
Ivan said he had a companion who died several months ago, according to Ola Fjeldstad, a Norwegian anthropology student conducting research on the atoll who spoke with the man Friday.
The castaway 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 found on the boat and the man suggested he caught the turtles and birds with his bare hands. There was a turtle on the boat when it landed at Ebon.
De Brum said she and Ivan were communicating through drawings, since he cannot speak English and she cannot speak Spanish.
“I’ve gotten to know him through pictures he’s drawing,” she said.
“He said he was on his way to El Salvador by boat when it started drifting.”
But beyond that, details of how and what happened remain sketchy.
“It’s been difficult trying to communicate with him,” she added.
Despite the communication challenges, the Ebon Atoll community is doing its best to help him, bringing clothes, food and mosquito coils to ensure he is comfortable, she said.
Officials with the police department’s sea patrol in Majuro said the agency’s surveillance and rescue patrol vessel left early Saturday to pick up Ivan and bring him to the capital.