Jose Ivan, whose boat washed ashore last week in the Marshall Islands, claimed to have just ended an 8,000-mile odyssey that began as a shark-hunting trip in Mexico on Christmas Day in 2012. The inhabitants of the southernmost tip of the Marshall Islands, a thin strip of land known as Ebon Atoll with a population of 714, came upon the bearded, bedraggled man and his 24-foot battered fibreglass boat when fortuitous currents had floated it onto a nearby reef. The men took Ivan by small boat to a young anthropology student from Norway, Ola Fjeldstad, who was in Ebon Atoll conducting research. Fjeldstad was able to communicate with Ivan in broken Spanish and learn something of his amazing tale. At that point Ione de Brum, mayor of the main island of Ebon Atoll, used the atoll group’s only phone to call the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Majuro, the capital of the Marshall Islands, and Ivan’s existence became known.
Fjeldstad told a news agency over the phone that Ivan’s condition was not good but was getting better. Mr. Ivan has had a basic health check and was found to have low blood pressure, but he does not appear to have any life-threatening illnesses and is able to walk with help. He will be transported the 230 miles to Majuro, where an ambulance will be waiting to take him to the hospital for further assessments and care. His transfer will likely need to wait until Tuesday, however, as the only plane that the government has that can land at Ebon is being serviced and will not be ready until until that time at the earliest. Officials are deliberating about sending a boat to pick up the castaway. Until then, Ivan will remain in the council house at Ebon Atoll, where he will be fed by a family. Ivan says that as soon as his health returns he plans to return to his family in Mexico.
The details of Ivan’s story are still a bit sketchy, not least because the atoll has only one phone and no internet connection, and Ivan’s Spanish is being conveyed through the Norwegian anthropology student. Mr. Ivan indicated that he left Mexico in the small boat with his companion, and that they were headed down the coast to El Salvador on a shark-hunting trip. Their boat started being carried out to sea by currents when they were hit with engine trouble. They continued to drift away from the coast towards the center of the Pacific Ocean despite their attempts to attract other vessels. Ivan’s companion perished at sea several months ago. Mr. Ivan indicated that he survived by drinking rainwater, or turtle blood when there was no rain, and eating birds, fish, and turtles caught by hand. Ivan was observed to be emaciated and dressed only in ragged underwear. The boat contained no fishing gear, but there was a turtle aboard. The boat’s engines were missing their propellers. The researcher noted that the boat looked like it had been in the water a long time and was very scratched up.
If details of Mr. Ivan’s story are confirmed, it is believed that his 8,000-mile, 13-month journey spent drifting from Mexico to the Marshall Islands will go down in the record books as being the longest time survived adrift in a boat.
By Donna Westlund