A Mexican man who claims to have survived 16 months adrift in the Pacific was yesterday regaining strength on a remote Marshall Islands atoll as a navy ship was sent to pick him up.
The emaciated castaway, who identified himself as Jose Ivan when he washed up on Ebon Atoll on Thursday, told his rescuers he had set sail from Mexico for El Salvador in September 2012 and had been floating on the ocean ever since.
"We've been feeding him nutritious island food and he's getting better," Ebon mayor Ione de Brum said from the southernmost cluster of coral islands in the Marshalls.
"He has pain in both knees so he cannot stand up by himself. Otherwise, he's OK."
The man, with long hair and beard and dressed only in ragged underpants, was discovered when his 24-foot fibreglass boat floated onto the reef at Ebon Atoll and he was spotted by two locals.
Ivan said he had a companion who died several months ago, according to Ola Fjeldstad, a Norwegian anthropology student doing research on the atoll who spoke to the man on Friday.
The castaway indicated to Fjeldstad that he survived by eating turtles, birds and fish and drinking turtle blood when there was no rain.
No fishing gear was on the boat and the man suggested he caught turtles and birds with his bare hands. There was a turtle on the boat when it landed at Ebon.
De Brum said she and Ivan were communicating through drawings, since he cannot speak English and she cannot speak Spanish.
"He said he was on his way to El Salvador by boat when it started drifting."
But beyond that details of what happened remain sketchy.
Officials in Majuro said the police agency's surveillance and rescue patrol vessel left early yesterday to pick up Ivan and bring him back to the capital.