(Reuters) - A fisherman thought to be 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 from Mexico in late December 2012 - some 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-meter (22-foot) fiberglass boat. A police patrol boat took him to Majuro, the capital of the islands.
“It was supposed to be a one-day fishing expedition, but they were blown off course by the northern winds,” Thomas Armbruster, the U.S. Ambassador to the Marshall Islands, told the media.
A male nurse helped him down the gangplank before he was whisked away to hospital for medical checks.
“He got off the boat with a very bushy beard,” Jack Niedenthal, a filmmaker 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.
According to the authorities, Alvarenga, who has been a fisherman for 15 years, said he set sail with another fisherman, aged 15 to 18, but the teenager died a month into their ordeal.
They also said they were still gathering information and planned to contact his family in El Salvador and the United States.
In a statement, El Salvador’s Foreign Ministry said it was working with Mexican authorities to return him to Mexico, and then on to El Salvador.
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 nine months at sea after drifting across the Pacific in a flimsy fishing boat.
(This version of the story amends name to Alvarenga to match El Salvador Foreign Ministry spelling)
Reporting by Thuy Ong, additional reporting by Michael O'Boyle in San Salvador; editing by Clarence Fernandez, G Crosse