CORRECTED-El Salvador fisherman washes up in Marshall Islands after year adrift

Mon Feb 3, 2014 11:35pm EST

(Amends name to Alvarenga to match El Salvador Foreign Ministry spelling)

SYDNEY Feb 3 (Reuters) - A fisherman from El Salvador who washed ashore on the Marshall Islands said he survived more than a year adrift in the Pacific Ocean, drinking turtle blood and catching fish and birds with his bare hands.

Jose Salvador Alvarenga, 37, told officials he set sail on a shark fishing trip late in December 2012 from Mexico, 10,000 km (6,200 miles) away, but was blown out to sea.

He was found in a disoriented state on a remote coral atoll where he had been washed up over the weekend in his 7.3-metre (22-foot) fibreglass boat. A police patrol boat took him to Majuro, the capital.

"He got off the boat with a very bushy beard," Jack Niedenthal, a film-maker based on Majuro, told Reuters by telephone.

"He's having trouble walking, his legs are very skinny. I'm not ready to call this a hoax, I think this guy has done some serious time at sea," Niedenthal said after speaking briefly to Alvarenga through an interpreter.

A male nurse helped him down the gangplank before he was whisked away to hospital for medical checks.

"It was supposed to be a one-day fishing expedition but they were blown off course by the northern winds," the U.S. ambassador to the Marshall Islands, Tom Armbruster, told media.

Alvarenga, who has been a fisherman for 15 years, according to the authorities, set sail with another fisherman, aged 15 to 18, but the teenager died a month into their ordeal.

Authorities said they were still gathering information and planned to contact his family in El Salvador and the United States.

The Marshall Islands has a population of 68,000 people spread over 24 coral atolls.

In 2006, three Mexican fishermen picked up by a Taiwanese tuna trawler near the islands said they had spent nearly 9 months at sea after drifting across the Pacific in a flimsy fishing boat. (Reporting by Thuy Ong; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)