José Salvador Alvarenga

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José Salvador Alvarenga
Born Garita Palmera, Ahuachapán, El Salvador
Disappeared November 17, 2012
Off the coast of Costa Azul, Chiapas, Mexico[1]
Status Found on 30 January 2014 in the Marshall Islands
Occupation Fisherman
Known for Claiming to have survived 14 months at sea in a fishing boat
Children One daughter[2]
Parent(s) José Ricardo Orellana and María Julia Alvarenga

José Salvador Alvarenga (born in Garita Palmera, Ahuachapán, El Salvador)[3] is a Salvadoran man who was found on 30 January 2014, aged 36 or 37,[nb 1] in the Marshall Islands, and claimed to have spent 13 months adrift in a fishing boat in the Pacific Ocean.[7] He is reported to have survived on a diet of raw fish, turtles, small birds, sharks, and rainwater.[8] He swam to shore at Ebon Atoll on January 30.[9] Two locals, Amy Libokmeto and Russell Laikedrik, found him naked, clutching a knife and shouting in Spanish.[10] On February 3[4] he was treated in a hospital in Majuro[11] before flying to his family home in El Salvador on February 10.[12]

Early and personal life[edit]

Alvarenga was born in Garita Palmera, Ahuachapán, El Salvador, to José Ricardo Orellana and María Julia Alvarenga. Orellana owns a flour mill in the town.[13][9] Though he is unmarried,[4] he has a 14-year-old daughter, who also lives in Garita Palmera with Alvarenga's parents,[9] and several brothers who live in the United States.[5] He left El Salvador about 15 years ago to move to Mexico, where he worked as a fisherman[5] for a man he called "Willie,"[14] whose real name may[vague] have been "Villermino Rodriguez."[2]


Alvarenga has said he set out from the fishing village of Costa Azul (near Pijijiapan) off the coast of Chiapas, Mexico[1] on December 21, 2012 in a 23 or 24-[5]foot fiberglass boat for a day's fishing, but was blown off course by a storm.[11] On the first day of their voyage, the motor died.[5] He also claims to have been accompanied by a 15-year-old boy, who he knew only as "Ezequiel". Ezequiel, according to Alvarenga, lost all hope around four months into the voyage and eventually died by refusing to eat.[15] Alvarenga has also said that he contemplated suicide for four days after Ezequiel died,[11] but that it was his strong religious faith that ultimately prevented him from doing so.[4] He also stated that, while at sea, he frequently dreamed about his favorite foods, as well as his parents.[4] The length of his voyage has been described as 5,500 to 6,700 miles (8,900 to 10,800 km)[11][3] long, the former of which is the approximate distance between Mexico and the Marshall Islands, as the crow flies.[16] Even though the newspapers originally claimed that Alvarenga had been at sea for 16 months, [17] he never said so himself (he did, however, refer to himself as José Ivan). Eventually, the newspapers corrected their error, and shortened his voyage to 13 months.[5] According to Gee Bing, Marshall Islands' acting secretary of foreign affairs, Alvarenga's vital signs are all "good," with the exception of blood pressure, which was unusually low. Bing also said that Alvarenga had swollen ankles and struggled with walking.[18] On 6 February the doctor treating him reported that his health had "gone downhill" since the day before and that he was on an IV drip due to his dehydration.[19]



Alvarenga's parents were convinced that he had died eight years ago as they had lost contact with him around that time and were therefore overjoyed to discover that he was still alive.[13] Alvarenga's father said that he had prayed for his son while he was missing,[5] while his mother said that she dreamt about her son during this time.[7] Alvarenga's daughter, upon hearing that her father had been found, said that after he returned home, the "first thing I'll do is hug him and kiss him.”[9]


Tom Armbruster, the United States Ambassador to the Marshall Islands, acknowledged that it seems implausible for someone to survive at sea for 13 months, but also that "it's also hard to imagine how someone might arrive on Ebon out of the blue. Certainly this guy has had an ordeal, and has been at sea for some time."[16] In addition, The Guardian's Jo Tuckman argued that the fact that a fishing boat had been reported missing on November 17, 2012 "lin[es] up" with Alvarenga's claim that he went to sea the following month and that this supports the view that "at least some of his story holds up."[1] In addition, Erik van Sebille, an oceanographer at the University of New South Wales, said that it was entirely possible that sea currents could carry a boat from Mexico to the Marshall Islands. He also estimated that such a trip would take about 18 months, but said that 13 months was still plausible.[20] Further support for Alvarenga's tale came from a study by researchers from the University of Hawaii. The study modeled the path a boat might have taken after departing from the Pacific Coast in Mexico based on wind and current conditions and concluded that it would end up "within 120 miles of Ebon" where Alvarenga actually landed.[21]


Some people have questioned the veracity of Alvarenga's story. The owner of the boat that Alvarenga used, César Castillo, said that "it's incredible to survive that long. It's hard to think how anybody could go more than six or seven months without getting scurvy at least."[9] However, in an interview, Claude Piantadosi of Duke University said that fresh meat from birds and turtles contains vitamin C and that eating a lot of it, as Alvarenga claims to have done, "would provide sufficient vitamin C to prevent scurvy."[22] The Guardian found the Chiapas rescue services official, Jaime Marroquín, who was informed that a fishing boat had gone missing in the area on November 17, 2012. The official report identified the two fishermen as being named Cirilo Vargas and Ezequiel Córdova,[9] and that both of them were in their thirties.[9] Marroquín also indicated that according to the boat's owner, Vargas was born in El Salvador.[1] The local authorities originally searched for Vargas and Córdova, but then called off the search after two days, citing heavy fog and bad weather.[9] In regard to the discrepancy between the names of the fishermen in the 2012 report and those of Alvarenga and Ezequiel, CBS News reported that "records in Mexico are often filed with such mistakes."[23] Another explanation was provided by Salvador Alvarenga's parents, as reported by National Post, when they confirmed that in Mexico their son is known as Cirilo.[24] The Guardian further pointed out that when Alvarenga arrived on Ebon Atoll, no one who lived there spoke Spanish. Another person who expressed doubts about whether Alvarenga was telling the truth was Bing, who said: "It does sound like an incredible story and I'm not sure if I believe his story. When we saw him, he was not really thin compared to other survivors in the past. I may have some doubts. Once we start communicating with where he's from, we'll be able to find out more information."[11]

In an interview, Rodríguez said that while he knew Alvarenga, "there are things that don't match up. I knew him, but I have a lot of doubts."[2] Rodríguez's father, Villermino Rodríguez Solís, said that Alvarenga had gone missing with a companion on November 18, 2012, rather than the December 21 date on which they originally set out.[25] He has stated that he "wishes to be repatriated back to Mexico."[3]

In April 2014, Alvarenga's lawyer told a press conference that Alvarenga had passed a lie detector test while being asked about his voyage.[26]


  1. ^ Most sources state that Alvarenga is 37, usually based on his own statements;[3][4][5] however, he has expressed uncertainty regarding his exact age and has been said to be uncertain about whether he is 36 or 37.[6]


  1. ^ a b c d Tuckman, Jo (4 February 2014). "José Salvador Alvarenga's 13 months at sea backed by fishermen and officials". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 February 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c "Jose Salvador Alvarenga's family had given him up for dead". 4 February 2014. Retrieved 4 February 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c d Walker, Brian (3 February 2014). "Castaway claims he drifted 13 months in Pacific". CNN. Retrieved 4 February 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Johnson, Giff (4 February 2014). "Real-Life Castaway Survived On Dreams Of Tortillas And Family". Business Insider. Retrieved 4 February 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Pearlman, Jonathan (4 February 2014). "Castaway's family in El Salvador rejoice at his survival". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 4 February 2014. 
  6. ^ Pearlman, Jonathan (3 February 2014). "Too incredible to be true? Survivor tells of Pacific ordeal". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 4 February 2014. 
  7. ^ a b De Graaf, Mia (4 February 2014). "‘I saw him alive in my dreams’: Stunned mother of Pacific castaway who claimed to have spent 14 months adrift at sea wants him home as his daughter, 14, says first thing she will do is hug and kiss him". The Daily Mail. Retrieved 4 February 2014. 
  8. ^ Connor, Tracy (4 February 2014). "'Mexican fisherman shore up Marshall Islands castaway's account'". NBC News. Retrieved 4 February 2014. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h "Fishy Story? Details Of Castaway's Tale Adrift At Sea Confirmed But Doubts Remain". Fox News Latino. 4 February 2014. Retrieved 4 February 2014. 
  10. ^ Pearlman, Jonathan (8 February 2014). "Castaway: two Pacific islanders, a screaming naked fisherman and three omelettes". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 10 February 2014. 
  11. ^ a b c d e Haddou, Leila (3 February 2014). "Pacific castaway recounts his 13-month odyssey". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 February 2014. 
  12. ^ "Castaway flies home after 13-month Pacific odyssey". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 February 2014. 
  13. ^ a b Aleman, Marcos (4 February 2014). "Sea survivor’s Salvadoran family thought he died". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 4 February 2014. 
  14. ^ Nick Perry, Associated Press, "Jose Salvador Alvarenga Says He Survived on Fish, Turtles and Birds for 13-Month, 8,800-km Adrift," National Post, February 3, 2014]
  15. ^ Pearlman, Jonathan (4 February 2014). "Castaway from Mexico: First photos of Jose Salvador Alvarenga's boat". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 4 February 2014. 
  16. ^ a b Associated Press (3 February 2014). "Jose Salvador Alvarenga, Mexican Fisherman, Says He Survived 14 Months at Sea". The Epoch Times. Retrieved 4 February 2014. 
  17. ^ Addley, Esther (31 January 2014). "Castaway tells tale of 16-month Pacific survival to rival Life of Pi". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 February 2014. 
  18. ^ Withnall, Adam (4 February 2014). "Castaway Jose Salvador Alvarenga’s 'incredible story': Official says fishy tale may be too good to be true". The Independent. Retrieved 4 February 2014. 
  19. ^ Connor, Tracy (6 February 2014). "Doctors Concerned For Health Of Castaway Jose Salvador Alvarenga". NBC News. Retrieved 6 February 2014. 
  20. ^ Poladian, Charles (3 February 2014). "Meet Jose Salvador Alvarenga: Castaway Spent 13 Months Lost At Sea, Survived On Birds And Turtles". International Business Times. Retrieved 5 February 2014. 
  21. ^ Agence France-Presse (16 February 2014). "How castaway Jose Salvador Alvarenga survived 18 months at sea". NDTV. Retrieved 18 February 2014. 
  22. ^ Associated Press (6 February 2014). "Jose Salvador Alvarenga and the science of survival". Retrieved 6 February 2014. 
  23. ^ Reals, Tucker (4 February 2014). "Jose Salvador Alvarenga's survival story gets backing from Mexico rescue official". CBS News. Retrieved 4 February 2014. 
  24. ^ Aleman, Marcos (4 February 2014). "Jose Salvador Alvarenga’s family say his survival ‘is a miracle’ as incredulity remains at epic 10,000-km ocean voyage". National Post. Retrieved 6 February 2014. 
  25. ^ "Doubts raised over castaway's 13 months 'lost at sea' claim". Fox News. 4 February 2014. Retrieved 4 February 2014. 
  26. ^ Bratu, Becky (4 April 2014). "Pacific Castaway Passed Lie Detector Test, Lawyer Says". NBC News. Retrieved 27 April 2014.