Could you survive at sea for a year, by yourself, in an open boat with no fishing gear? Last Friday, a strange tale of unlikely survival began to circulate. This story revolved around a man who was reportedly rescued after being adrift in the Pacific for more than a year, according to the AFP.
The man, who initially identified himself by the name Jose Ivan, was rescued by two locals last Thursday near Ebon Atoll. This tiny coral island is in the southernmost part of the Marshall Islands, roughly 8,000 miles from the purported beginning of this man’s journey from Mexico. During his debriefing with local officials, he admitted that his name was Jose Salvador Albarengo, and he began his shark fishing voyage with another man, a teenager known by the name of Xiquel. After strong weather blew their 24-foot fiberglass boat off course, they were soon lost in the Pacific. Albarengo claimed that the teen had starved to death after only a few weeks, refusing to eat the raw birds and other food they were catching.
“His condition isn’t good, but he’s getting better,” said Ola Fjeldstad of Albarengo’s recovery during a telephone interview with the AFP. Fjeldstad, who is a Norwegian anthropology student doing research on Ebon Atoll, also said that the lost fisherman was wearing only a pair of underwear when found, and claims he sailed from Mexico in September 2012.
Fjeldstad indicated that there wasn’t any fishing gear found on the boat, and Albarengo caught his food — turtles and sea bird — with his bare hands. As fantastic as that claim sounds, a turtle was found in the boat when Albarengo landed. If this story sounds familiar, you might remember a similar tale from 2006, when three Mexican fishermen were found near the Marshall Islands after being lost at sea for nine months. That trip began with two other men who died of starvation after a few weeks because they refused to eat the raw sea gulls and fish that were being caught.
Pictures from this news report show a bearded scruffy man who looks remarkably well for living through such an ordeal. Close-up shots of his face make it look chubby rather than emaciated, as you would perhaps expect. However, swelling is a legitimate side effect to the consumption of abundant food and drink after a long episode of starvation and dehydration, and the man’s ankles do look swollen in one of the photos. Plus, while we don’t know what he did for drinking water, it’s not hard to imagine him devising some way to capture rainwater.
But before you think I’m defending this story, I’ll point out the most damning thing I noticed in the photos: The condition of the man’s skin. Anyone who has spent 16 months on tropical seas in nothing but his skivvies should appear as though he has been upholstered in brown leather. The man in the pictures looks to be barely tanned, let alone burned.
What’s my gut opinion on this tale? I don’t buy it. This man may have been in some kind of emergency situation, but 16 months adrift would be a new record. To put things in perspective, ocean survivor Steven Callahan was very close to death from starvation when rescued in 1981, and his life raft had only been adrift for 76 days. While there’s no question that birds, fish, and turtles can be caught without tackle, an all-meat diet would cause rapid weight loss. Albarengo’s lack of carbohydrates and fat over such a long period should have led to death from malnutrition, despite a belly full of food.
What’s your take on this story? Let us hear it in the comments.