On Monday more than a thousand onlookers gathered at the port of Majuro, the capital of the Marshall Islands, to see police escort a disheveled fisherman to a nearby hospital. Identified as Jose Salvador Albarengo, 37, the man claims he survived more than a year as a castaway in the Pacific Ocean eating nothing more than what he could catch. According to the AFP, it is believed that Albarengo set sail from Mexico sometime in late 2012 on a shark fishing expedition. Accompanying the fisherman on his 24-foot fiberglass boat was the teenage son of a co-worker, who officials have yet to identify.
Albarengo washed ashore on a small atoll of the Marshall Islands last week and was rescued by local residents. While his rescuers waited for a Spanish interpreter, Albarengo indicated that he survived by eating fish, seabirds, and even drinking turtle blood when rain was scarce. NBC News reported that interpreters had difficulty confirming his story due to his confused mental state.
“He is hungry, swollen, in pain, extremely loopy and wants a haircut,” one interpreter wrote in a report.
However, Albarengo managed to tell officials that he was a native of El Salvador working in Mexico, and that his most recent fishing trip took a disastrous turn. The fisherman claimed that it did not take long for strong winds to blow his tiny craft off-course. With the addition of a crippling engine failure, the fisherman and his assistant were adrift many miles from land.
Albarengo said that he was able to catch fish and birds, which were eaten raw. For several weeks he and his teenage companion shared a diet of the small fish that swam alongside the boat. The younger man was eating badly and had trouble keeping the raw meat down. Albarengo said that the teen died a month or more after the engine failure. In the absence of company, Albarengo spent much of his time praying.
The fisherman was hospitalized on Monday and doctors reported he was in good health. Albarengo’s extraordinary story, however, has yet to be confirmed by Mexican officials or his family. While the fisherman certainly looks like he has been through a rough voyage, some experts say it may have been shorter than Albarengo claims.
“It does sound like an incredible story and I’m not sure if I believe his story,” acting secretary of Foreign Affairs for the Marshal Islands Gee Bing told USA Today. “When we saw him, he was not really thin compared to other survivors in the past. I may have some doubts. Once we start communicating with where he’s from, we’ll be able to find out more information.”