Saturday 3 December 2016

World's longest-surviving castaway sued for $1m after being accused of 'eating his colleague'

Harriet Alexander

Published 15/12/2015 | 16:58

Jose Salvador Alvarenga ( Marshall Islands Foreign Affairs Department/AP)
Jose Salvador Alvarenga ( Marshall Islands Foreign Affairs Department/AP)

A FISHERMAN who stunned the world by surviving 15 months lost at sea is being sued for $1 million by the family of his dead colleague, who accuse him of eating their relative to ensure his own survival.

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Salvador Alvarenga, 36, is the only man known to have survived for over a year at sea.

Ezequiel Cordoba
Ezequiel Cordoba

And when he set sail from the coast of Mexico in November 2012, he thought he was setting out on a two-day fishing trip, having paid 22-year-old Ezequiel Cordoba $50 to accompany him.

But a vicious storm with 10ft waves knocked out the 25ft boat’s communication systems, and washed their supplies overboard.

Mr Alvarenga, a hard-living, tough professional from El Salvador, radioed the boat’s owner and demanded to be rescued. His last words to land were: “Come now, I am really getting ------ out here.”

Cordoba, a novice fisherman, panicked, said Mr Alvarenga.

Jose Salvador Alvarenga is embraced by his parents, Ricardo Orellana, right, and Maria Julia Alvarenga in San Salvador (AP)
Jose Salvador Alvarenga is embraced by his parents, Ricardo Orellana, right, and Maria Julia Alvarenga in San Salvador (AP)
Salvadorean castaway Jose Salvador Alvarenga speaks to journalists in an ambulance on his way to hospital

He suffered hallucinations and tried to throw himself overboard, where sharks were circling. The pair survived for several months by catching fish and birds, and drinking turtle blood and rainwater. But one bird they ate made Cordoba severely sick, and they found a yellow poisonous sea snake inside its stomach.

Cordoba proved to be less resilient than the older man, refusing to eat some of the stomach-churning raw meat that kept Mr Alvarenga alive. He eventually died, extracting promises from Mr Alvarenga not to eat his corpse, and to find Cordoba’s mother and tell her what happened.

Mr Alvarenga befriended the corpse, keeping it on the boat for six days and chatting to it, until he realised his own insanity and threw it overboard.

“I could see my death was going to be very, very slow,” he said.

But against all odds, he survived. Mr Alvarenga washed up in the Marshall Islands, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, in January 2014. Dazed and emaciated, he was found by a couple living on the island who took him in.

His story was initially greeted with incredulity, but accepted as truth once experts confirmed that his experience as a fisherman and physical strength would just about make survival possible.

In March 2014, amid much media hype, Mr Alvarenga visited Cordoba’s mother, Rosalia Rios, and delivered the message from her son.

“He told him how he cried at Ezequiel’s death, talking to him, telling him that he wasn’t dead and was only asleep,” said Benedicto Perlera, Mr Alvarenga’s lawyer at the time.

“In the end he had to throw him into the sea.

“In the middle of the ocean he had no way of knowing the day, and did not have a calendar, but he believes it was around March and so that is how we shall remember him.”

But soon the experience soured.

In January this year Mr Perlera, his previous lawyer, sued him for $1 million after Mr Alvarenga signed a book deal and switched firms.

The book, 438 Days, was published in October.

And now Cordoba’s family have also begun $1 million legal action, accusing Mr Alvarenga of eating their relative.

"I believe that this demand is part of the pressure from this family to divide the proceeds of royalties,” said Ricardo Cucalon, Mr Alvarenga's new lawyer. He told El Salvadoran newspaper El Diario de Hoy that Mr Alvarenga has always denied eating Cordoba.

“Many believe the book is making my client a rich man, but what he will earn is much less than people think."

Mr Cucalon said that his client has returned to the town of San Francisco Menéndez, in Ahuachapán close to the border with Guatemala, where he lives in a rented house shared with his parents and daughter.

The book, he said, has done poorly in the US, with only 1,500 copies sold. But that has not stopped Cordoba’s family from seeking a share of the profits.

In April, they demanded that Mr Alvarenga hand over 50 per cent of the revenues.

Telegraph.co.uk

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