Wednesday, February 5, 2014

"Biggest Search In Mexican History" Failed To Locate El Salvadoran Castaway

Castaway Contemplated Suicide 
After Losing Ship Mate

Stern of Boat - Telegraph Photo

Maybe it wasn't the biggest search in the history of Mexico.  It lasted two weeks, longer than the search New Zealand said it did for the Schooner Nina, lost in the Tasman Sea on June 4th, 2013.  Authorities say the Nina search was the biggest search done in the history of their area of responsibility.  

Despite best efforts by the Mexican civil defense force, the launch carrying Jose Salvador Alvarenga and youth  Ezequiel Cordoba could not be found, says Jose Manuel Aragon, spokesman for the Chiapas state civil defense office.  They didn't find the Nina, either.

The authorities have lots of questions of the unfortunate sailor who found himself lost at sea as early as November of 2012.  

"It was probably something that was planned beforehand, something we had no knowledge of," Manuel-Aragon said. "Our only duty was to carry out search and rescue operations." (and not investigate other activities).

Cooler Used For Cover -Telegraph Photo

According to Manuel-Aragon, the two shark fishermen set out from their tiny village in Chiapas State on the West coast of Mexico despite warnings of high winds and rain.

"You can imagine a lot of things, but that is something he should explain," said Vilermino "Willie" Rodriguez.  Rodriguez is the person who bought the shark meat caught by the castaway at $1.90 a pound.

"There are things that don't match up. I knew him, but I have a lot of doubts," Rodriguez noted.

Even the U.S. Ambassador  to the Marshall Islands, Tom Armbruster, weighed in after speaking to castaway Jose Salvador Alvarenga.

"It's hard for me to imagine someone surviving 13 months at sea." 

The AP writers who have been following the story noted, "Central America is a major transshipment route for U.S.-bound drugs, but there is no evidence traffickers would use such a small boat to try to make such a long journey."

GEE Bing, the acting Secretary of Foreign Affairs for the Marshall Islands where Alvarenga came to shore, publically expressed doubt about Alvarenga's story.  At last, he arranged to move the castaway from the hospital to a hotel.  Nearly immediately, hotel staff began to protect Alvarenga from the hordes of media and well wishers who were preventing the castaway from getting any rest.  While authorities in multiple countries have doubts about Alvarenga's story, at least they are treating one of the longest known survivors at sea with some respect.

That respect was absent for John Glennie and his three crew mates who survived 119 days adrift in the capsized catamaran, the Rose Noelle South of the Marshall Islands.  After the four sailors rescued themselves by drifting to a New Zealand island, the authorities investigated Glennie and his mates, claiming there might be a drug connection.  Some speculated, the four sailors had completed a drug run and were laying low until they could concoct a good story.  They were in too good a shape to have been out in the ocean for such a long time, some said.  Like Alvarenga, they held a Eulogy for Captain Glennie. 

Shrimp Of The Sea Telegraph Photo

They had searched high and low for the Rose Noelle and no one had spotted it.  Surely something was wrong.  They even dove the wreck site where the Rose Noelle broke up as she came to land.  Soon it would be time to eat crow.  

The deciding factor came when divers located deeply personal things that a sailor who scuttles his own boat to cover his tracks would never leave behind.  The authorities were forced to the conclusion the story of the Rose Noelle was true.

George Lanwi, Commissioner of the Marshall Islands police force, said to a telegraph reporter, "I don't know whether he is telling us the truth until we get the facts from his fingerprints and everything,  We are trying to verify what he said as far as where he is from, and who he was involved with back in El Salvador. We are trying to prove all that he has been telling people. Why didn't they report him missing to authorities in Mexico?"
Despite using alias names, and not being clear about the day or even month Alvarenga set sail, relatives are coming forward to identify the wayward mariner.  It is clear Alvarenga is from Garita Palmera, El Salvador, a country rocked by death squads in a bitter civil war.  He was known as Cirilo in El Salvador, a nicer name than he was given by his Mexican employers, La Chancha, the dirty one.  

About 15 years ago, Alvarenga traveled to Mexico and worked as a shark fisherman.  His daughter, Fatima, has no memory of him, since Alvarenga left El Salvador when she was only 1 year old.  Fatima was excited to hear her father is alive.

“I didn’t know the hour, nor the day, nor the date,” Alvarenga said to a Telegraph reporter. “I only knew the sun and the night… I never saw land. Pure ocean, pure ocean. It was very placid – only two days with big waves.”

After his shipmate died, Alvarenga contemplated taking his own life.

“For four days I wanted to kill myself. But I couldn’t feel the desire – I didn’t want to feel the pain. I couldn’t do it.”

Alvarenga said he was never bored and rarely frightened.  

“I had my mind on God,” he said. “If I was going to die, I would be with God. So I wasn’t scared... I imagine this is an incredible story for people.”

Alvarenga used a large cooler for shelter.  He had just killed a bird when he looked up and saw trees.

"Oh God!" he said.

After swimming to shore Alvarenga was unable to walk.  He was wearing only his underwear which was tattered.  Two girls who spotted him were so shocked they began screaming.

Alvarenga told his mother by telephone he was not sure where he was.  After drinking turtle blood and his own urine for hydration and battling the elements for 14 months, facing the might of the Pacific Ocean and watching his shipmate perish, should more be expected?

Meanwhile, the families of the crew of the Nina take heart in the story.  They have maintained for a long time the Nina may still be afloat.  Skeptics including some rescue officials claim even if the Nina is afloat there would be no survivors.  That is what they said about Jose Salvador Alvarenga, too.

Information for this article was obtained from the Telegraph, the Grand Island Independent and AP news reports.

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