Monday, February 3, 2014

'Miracle Man of the Pacific' who survived 14 months adrift: 'I can't remember much, just one thought - the sea, the sea' says fisherman

Miraculous survival: Jose Ivan Salvador Albaniaga, claims to have set off from Mexico for El Salvador in December 2012 but ended up traveling more than 8,000 miles to the Ebon Atoll 
But not everyone believes Alvarenga's tale, in part because he was not nearly as emaciated as others who have been lost at sea.
"It does sound like an incredible story and I'm not sure if I believe his story," said Gee Bing, the acting secretary of foreign affairs for the Marshall Islands, told the AFP.

Frail, bearded but smiling, Jose Salvador Albaniaga came ashore on the island of Majuro on Monday after his terrible ordeal and spoke to MailOnline
Jose only survived by catching, birds, fish, turtles and drinking their blood
He told MailOnline: 'I thank God and I thank the birds I caught to eat. I caught fish and at times I drank my own urine to have liquid'
He also had to drink turtle blood and his own urine when there was no rain
He looked plumper than expected, but a doctor said it was because his body has swollen from the conditions he endured
He said: 'I know I thought about my family all the time. I know they would have been worried about me, thinking that I was dead'
Claims he left Mexico for El Salvador in December 2012 with a companion, aged between 15 and 18, who died after four weeks
'I'm desperate and I want to get back to Mexico,' he said, joking that his boss should pay for his ticket home

Issue: The biggest problem facing those cast adrift on the open seas is summed up by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
in his poem The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner: 'Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink'

This is the first picture of the 'Miracle Man of the Pacific' - the fisherman who survived on turtle blood, raw fish and seagull flesh for more than a year as he drifted helplessly across the world's largest ocean.
Stumbling ashore today at a dock in the Marshall Islands, Jose Salvador Albaniaga managed a smile before telling MailOnline: 'I'm alive - I'm alive and I can't believe it.'
When asked about his ordeal he simply replied: 'I cannot remember much about my journey.
It has all gone into one thought - the sea, the sea.'
It had stretched out endlessly on all sides as Jose and his teenage fellow shark fisherman endured the most soul-destroying of conditions after their boat was left at the sole mercy of the currents when their engine broke down on December 21, 2012.

Despite their attempts to attract other vessels, they continued to drift further out to sea.
He watched his teenage fishing companion, aged between 15 and 18, slowly die under the relentless sun.
Jose continued his own struggle for survival that was to endure for week after week, month after tortuous month, as he was forced to drink his own urine and pick ravenously at the raw flesh of seagulls.

 Miraculous survival: He was discovered by locals when he washed up on the Ebon Atoll, pictured,
in the Pacific Ocean after 16 months stranded at sea

But today as he stepped ashore on the dock at the Marshall Islands' capital, Majuro, he told MailOnline exclusively: 'I survived because I prayed. I prayed all the time.'
And while he believed that his faith had helped carry him through the 14 months he was adrift, it was also his determination to stay alive - grabbing turtles to drink their blood when there was no rain water, swallowing down his own urine, snatching seagulls to eat their flesh and hooking fish and eating them raw - that ensured his tenuous hold on life.
'I thank God that I am here,' he told MailOnline after his 24ft boat had drifted helplessly across 8,000 miles of treacherous seas, remarkably staying upright in storms, sitting idly in calm conditions, as the sole survivor thought about his family on a far-away continent.
'I'm alive, it is so good,' he said from his hospital bed after being brought to the Marshall Islands capital, Majuro.
'I thank God and I thank the birds I caught to eat. I caught fish and at times I drank my own urine to have liquid.'
Of his ill-fated companion, all he would say is 'I'm sad for him'.
Jose said he desperately wanted to phone his family - his wife and his 10-year-old daughter - in El Salvador but he cannot remember the name of the village or a phone number.
'I have forgotten many things,' he told MailOnline.

 Ebon atoll (NGA chart #81030)

Marshall Islands immigration chief Damien Jacklick said: 'With the help of the US ambassador, we were able to obtain information on his family members in El Salvador and the United States. We hope this information will help us track down his family.'
Jose has even forgotten exactly how old he is.
He 'believes' he is about 36 to 38, even though his ordeal has made him appear much older.
'He is here, with us, but he isn't here with us,' an interpreter who has spoken to Jose told MailOnline. 'He is still disorientated, there is no doubt about that.'
Jose said: 'It has been a long time, but I feel safe now. I know, too that I will get back home.'

When he arrived at the port in Majuro on board the naval ship that brought him from the atoll where he was found, he told MailOnline: 'I'm alive - I'm alive. I cannot believe it.'
Nor could the village people of Ebon atoll, which he had luckily struck, believe it when they saw the tussel-haired man with a thick beard, standing on a beach in tattered shorts, which had been decayed by sea-salt.
They stared in astonishment at the stranger, whose skin was burned dry by the sun and the sea spray - but typical of their generosity they put him into one of their own small boats and carried him to their main village where they clothed and fed him and gave him fresh water.
A Norwegan anthropology student, Ola Fieldstad, who was in the area managed to learn a little of his extraordinary story through sign language and a series of drawings.
Then the local Mayor put a call through on the atoll's only phone to alert the authorities in Majuro about the castaway.

Solitude: Tom Hanks in the Hollywood film Cast Away

Astonishingly, the man who was in the care of the village for several days before he was brought to Majuro today, bore a striking resemblance to Tom Hanks' character in the movie Castaway, with his brown beard and tangled hair. Elements of Jose's story raced around the world...he had been at sea, said first reports, for 16 months; his companion had died after four months; he was completely emaciated.

But as MailOnline established through his first words in the island capital and also witnessed he appeared in much better health than expected from such an ordeal.
Jose doesn't appear emaciated from months of starvation.
Doctors said, however, that his body was bloated from the conditions he had suffered.
His blood pressure was low and he walked cautiously, but it was more his mental condition than his physical appearance that medics on the main island suggested would be his greatest challenge in coming days.
He is expected to suffer the ongoing effects of prolonged exposure, fear of death, starvation and lack of water.
Watching his teenage companion die would have added to his ordeal - and that was before the real terror began as he drifted for more than a year across the ocean.
He would, said doctors, need complete rest while authorities in El Salvador, where his family live, make arrangements for him to be flown home to his wife and daughter.

It is not known that when he described his daughter as aged 10 whether he was referring to her when he had set off on his ill-fated fishing expediton.
'I thought about them all the time,' he told MailOnline.
'I think that by now they think that I am dead. So I want to go home and show them that I am alive. I thank God that I am here.'
As evidence of his gratitude, when he was asked by interpreter Magui Vaca if he had prayed all the time, he put his hands together in an attitude of prayer.
'Always,' he replied.
It is perhaps not so surprising that Jose says he cannot remember the fine details of his ordeal when all he saw was the shape of his boat and the vast ocean on all sides.
But a long rest in coming days, said doctors, would help him to recall more of his extraordinary survival.

Doctors said the fact that he was still alive after such a long period at sea, snatching what liquid and solid foods he could, was testament to his original good physical condition.
A human can live for about three weeks without food but only three to five days without liquids.
Turtle blood is rich in iron and proteins, providing the same sort of nutrition found in steak and eggs, but it is still a poor substitute for rainwater.
He might also have consumed the turtles' eyes, for they are filled with fluid.
Jose's constitution undoubtedly also ensured his survival.
A local Marshallese woman said that from her experience of other people who had died in remote locations it was because they had not been able to consume raw food - they kept vomiting it up - and this might have been why the fisherman had died.
It's not inconceivable that this is the horrid death Jose's young companion was doomed to.
A 24ft boat provides little room for exercise, even if a dehydrated and starving man has the strength to do any, so when he finally stumbled ashore he found it difficult to stand, complaining of pain in his knees.

In a crackly radio conversation with MailOnline on Saturday, he revealed that there was just one thing on his mind now.
'I just want to get back home - but I don't even know where I am. I'm tired and sad. I'm desperate to get home but I don't know how.'
Then, revealing that he had not lost his sense of humour, he added: 'If someone gets me home, I'm sure my boss will pay' - a reference to his employers, the Camoronera Dela Costa fishing company, in Tapachula, on the Guatemala border.

Other castaways have died after much shorter times in open waters, among them two Panamanian fishermen who, in 2012, succumbed to heat stroke and dehydration after 28 days.
Back in 2006, three Mexicans, also adrift near the Marshall Islands, survived on fish, birds and rainwater for nine months, saying later that their mental health was sustained by a copy of the Bible.

Links :
  • DailyMail :  How can anyone survive 13 months adrift on the ocean? The answer, as a newly rescued castaway has revealed, is by drinking turtle blood - and having awesome mental fortitude
  • National Geographic : Surviving more than a year adrift at sea is possible, with a little luck