February 5, 2014
Alone At Sea For 16 Months
Can you remember what you were doing around 16 months ago, in September 2012? It seems a long time ago and for most of us a lot of water has passed under a lot of bridges. For José Ivan, a Mexican fisherman, it seems that a lot of water has passed under his tiny boat, but not much else. While you and I were doing what we do with our lives, all that time poor old José was drifting across the Pacific Ocean trying to survive.
José has been found in the Marshall Islands more than 8,000 miles from his home. His 24-foot fiberglass boat was discovered washed up on a beach on the remote Ebon atoll by two locals. Luckily for José they decided to check it out. What they found was a Robinson Crusoe look-alike: a disorientated and emaciated figure with a great big beard and long matted hair dressed only in a pair of threadbare underpants. He could only tell his story with gestures as, in the mainly English speaking Marshall Islands, the locals spoke no Spanish, but he managed to show them how he had survived only by catching fish and seabirds by hand. He also caught turtles, relying on drinking their blood when there was no rain. There was no fishing gear in the boat but there was a dead turtle. The boat was in poor condition with both engines missing their propellers. José claims the engines cut out shortly after he left his Mexican home on a fishing trip. He also indicated that he had set out with a companion who had died a few months before he hit land.
It took a while for the story to break. The group of islands where he was found is in a remote part of the Marshall Islands with no Internet connection, but the rescuers took the Mexican survivor to the atoll’s main island where the Mayor used the only phone to contact the capital Majuro. Even the phone proved unreliable and an intermittent radio connection is being used. The only plane capable of landing on Ebon is out of action so it looks like José will have to wait for a boat to pick him up to see his wish to return to Mexico fulfilled. Locals are taking care of José it seems and he has been put up at the communal “council house.” It is hoped that a boat will arrive this week to take him on the 18-hour journey to Majuro. The nearest Mexican embassy is a long way away in Indonesia but officials are reported to be making their way to Majuro with a team of doctors.
José is something of a mystery man. There appear to be no reports of him or his companion going missing and, as yet, no one in Mexico has claimed to know him. Many experts in survival at sea doubt his story, but it is not unique. In 2006, three Mexicans were found alive in their boat that was drifting helplessly off the Marshall Islands after they too had lost their engines. They had been at sea for nine months. José’s story is even more remarkable but for now his story is just beginning to unfold.
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