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2/5/2014

Castaway

Marshall-Islands

He has spent over a year adrift in the Pacific Ocean, exposed to the elements in his tiny boat, alone after his friend died, and surviving on turtle blood and dead birds. And now all Jose Ivan wants to do is go home.

“I want to get back to Mexico,” he told his interpreter, in his first contact with the outside world since December 2012. Jose Ivan spoke to Magui Vaca, a Spanish translator based in the capital of the Marshall Islands, as he set off by ship on the 18-hour journey from the tiny atoll to the capital, Majuro.

Due to land in Majuro on Monday morning, he was to be met by representatives from the Mexican embassy in Indonesia – the closest diplomatic post to the remote islands – and a team of doctors.

“I feel bad,” the castaway told his translator. “I am so far away. I don’t know where I am or what happened.”

The details of Jose Ivan’s remarkable journey have been exceptionally difficult to piece together.

The single phone line to Ebon went out of service on Saturday and the island does not have any internet – leaving radio the only option for communication. And the brief interview on Sunday, in which he said he wanted to return home, proved difficult as the radio transmission was marred by static.

No one in Mexico has yet come forwards to say that they know the missing man.

And it was hoped that with his arrival in the capital, Jose Ivan’s story – with is obvious parallels to the Tom Hanks film Cast Away – would be told in full, to an audience gripped by the story of his survival.

All that is known so far is that on Thursday the emaciated man in ragged underpants was found on the Ebon Atoll, where he had washed up in his 24-ft fibreglass boat. He spoke no English, and no one among the 700 islanders spoke Spanish.

With drawings and gestures he managed to explain to the mayor, Ione deBrum, that he had set off from Mexico to El Salvador on a shark fishing trip, but was carried away by currents. His colleague died during the ordeal, and Jose Ivan use images to show that he survived by eating turtles, birds and fish that he caught with his hands, and drinking turtle blood when there was no rain.

“We’ve been feeding him nutritious island food and he’s getting better,” said Mr deBrum. “He has pain in both knees so he cannot stand up by himself. Otherwise, he’s OK.”

It is understood his small boat encountered engine trouble and the currents carried them out into the ocean.

Despite their attempts to attract other vessels, they continued to drift further out to sea – and it was then, as the weeks and the months dragged by, that their desperate struggle to survive took up every minute.

Jose Ivan would not be the first Mexican to wash up on the Marshall Islands.

In 2006, three Mexicans made international headlines when they were discovered drifting, also in a small fibreglass boat near the Marshall Islands, nine months after setting out on a shark-fishing expedition.

They survived on a diet of rainwater, raw fish and seabirds, with their hope kept alive by reading the bible.

Castaways from Kiribati, to the south, frequently find land in the Marshall Islands after ordeals of weeks or months at sea in small boats.

The Marshall Islands, in the northern Pacific, are home to about 60,000 people spread over 24 low-lying atolls.

Ms Vaca said that Jose Ivan was disorientated and did not know what had happened during his many months at sea.

“He feels a little desperate and he wants to get back to Mexico, but he doesn’t know how,” she said.

Shipwrecked man survives 16 months adrift at sea: An emaciated man was discovered on Thursday when his boat washed up on a remote Pacific atoll, having floated over 12,500 kilometers (8,000 miles) from Mexico since September of 2012, according to reports.

He was found when his 24-foot fibreglass boat with propellerless engines floated onto the reef at Ebon Atoll in the Marshall Islands, and he was seen by two locals.

Ola Fjeldstad, a Norwegian anthropology student doing research on Ebon, told AFP by telephone ”His condition isn’t good, but he’s getting better”.

Ms Fjeldstad said the man speaks only Spanish, so details of his survival are sketchy, but he said his name is Jose Ivan, according to reports.

Mr Ivan has a long beard and hair, and was found dressed only in ragged underpants.

Mr Ivan indicated to Ms Fjeldstad that he survived 16 months at sea by eating turtles, birds and fish, and drinking turtle blood when there was no rain.

He says he set off from Mexico to El Salvador in September 2012 with a companion, who died at sea several months ago.

“The boat is really scratched up and looks like it has been in the water for a long time,” said Ms Fjeldstad.

There was no fishing gear on the boat, and Mr Ivan indicated he caught turtles and birds with his bare hands. There was a turtle on the boat when it was found at Ebon.

The Marshall Islanders who discovered Ivan took him to the atoll’s main island to meet Mayor Ione de Brum, who called the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Majuro, according to Ms Fjeldstad.

Foreign Ministry officials on Friday said they were waiting to get more details and for Mr Ivan to be brought to Majuro.

However, the government airline’s only plane that can land at Ebon is down for maintenance and is not expected to return to service until Tuesday at the earliest, so officials are considering sending a boat to pick up Mr Ivan.

“He’s staying at the local council house and a family is feeding him,” Ms Fjeldstad said, adding that Mr Ivan had a basic health check which showed he had low blood pressure.

But he did not appear to have any illness that was life-threatening, and was able to walk with the help of men on the island.

“We’ve been giving him a lot of water, and he’s gaining strength,” said Ms Fjeldstad.

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