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Marshall Islands cast away drank blood to survive as some question his story

A 37-year-old shark fisherman from Mexico who says he drifted across the Pacific for 13 months arrives in the Marshall Islands capital Monday for a medical checkup.
A 37-year-old shark fisherman from Mexico who says he drifted across the Pacific for 13 months arrives in the Marshall Islands capital Monday for a medical checkup.

A cast away who washed ashore in the Marshall Islands last week, arrived in the capital of Majuro Monday. Jose Salvador Alvarengo, a 37-year-old Mexican shark fisherman, washed ashore on a tiny atoll in the Marshall Islands claiming he survived on turtles, fish, birds and their blood for over a year after a storm blew his boat off course in Dec. 2012.

Alvarengo came ashore last week on the atoll of Ebon, and finally made the journey to Majuro where he was hospitalized Monday for a check up, according to CNN on Feb. 3. His story has yet to be confirmed, and some have expressed doubts about the relatively good state of his health as well as the somewhat short time it took him to reach the Pacific island chain.

He told interpreters he was initially accompanied by a teenager he knew only as Ezekeil, who died about a month after being lost at sea. He sported long hair and a beard, but seemed in reasonably good health, according to USA Today.

About 1000 curious onlookers showed up for a glimpse of the long-haired fisherman, who smiled and briefly waved before being whisked away for a medical check-up at Majuro Hospital.

The sparsely populated Ebon Atoll is a 22-hour boat ride from Majuro. The southernmost of the islands, Ebon has only 2.2 square miles of land, one phone line and no Internet service.

The government airplane that services the atoll was out of service, so Alvarengo didn't make it to Majuro until Monday morning.

The cast away told U.S. ambassador Thomas Armbruster, who acted as interpreter for Marshall Islands authorities, that he was originally from El Salvador but had been living in Mexico for the past 15 years.

But Gee Bing, acting secretary of foreign affairs for the Marshall Islands, remained skeptical of Alvarengo's account after meeting with him Monday.

"It does sound like an incredible story and I'm not sure if I believe his story," Bing said, adding, "When we saw him, he was not really thin compared to other survivors in the past. I may have some doubts."

And Erik van Sebille, an oceanographer at the University of New South Wales, noted that although there's a good chance a boat adrift off Mexico's west coast could eventually make it to the Marshall Islands, 13 months is a bit fast.

Sebille said that journey would normally take about 18 months, although he said depending on winds and currents, 13 months is within the realm of possibilities.

Of course then there's the story of the teenager, described as being between 15- and 18-years-old. The survivor said the teen died a few weeks into the ordeal because he was unable to eat raw bird meat.

Alvarengo admitted he himself had to hold his nose in order to choke down the raw meat and blood for water that he survived on. He also told of relying on rainwater, and sometimes his own urine to drink.

If officials verify Alvarengo's story, the trip across the Pacific would have taken him across roughly 5,000 miles of open ocean.

The Marshall Islands are located about halfway between Hawaii and Australia, in the northern Pacific.

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