Castaway's survival tale 'possible'

2014-02-05 14:40
Jose Salvador Alvarenga sits on a couch in Majuro in the Marshall Islands, after he was rescued from being washed ashore on the tiny atoll of Ebon in the Pacific Ocean. (Gee Bing, AP)

Jose Salvador Alvarenga sits on a couch in Majuro in the Marshall Islands, after he was rescued from being washed ashore on the tiny atoll of Ebon in the Pacific Ocean. (Gee Bing, AP)

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Paris - With many questions unanswered in the castaway tale of a fisherman who claims to have survived 13 months adrift in the Pacific, experts say the account is in theory possible.

Jose Salvador Alvarenga, who washed up on a Marshall Islands atoll last Thursday, would have faced astonishing obstacles, they say.

Lack of water, food and vitamins, blazing sun, storms, muscle atrophy and depression are just a few of the seemingly insurmountable problems he would have faced.

But, say these sources, he could also have been saved by a combination of survival skills, tenacity and a bit of luck.

"If true, then this is a remarkable survival that he has gone through", said Hilmar Snorrason, chairperson of the international association for safety and survival training, based in Southampton, England.

"I can imagine there are many people who think this story is unbelievable. [But] theoretically my answer is yes, it is possible. He should be given the benefit of the doubt."

Elements for survival

Alvarenga claims to have survived on raw bird and fish flesh, turtle blood and his own urine as his 7m fibreglass boat drifted all the way from Mexico after the engine died during a fishing expedition.

A teenage companion died of starvation during the trip and his body was pushed overboard, Alvarenga said.
Fluids essential for survival

The key elements for survival, said Snorrason, would have been to consume sufficient liquids and nutrients.

"You would last about seven days without any liquid, [then] you would start to lose consciousness", he said.

Apart from obvious sources like rainwater, safe alternatives for liquid intake included fish eyes and spinal fluid, the juices squeezed from fish flesh, and turtle blood, according to a 2002 book entitled Essentials of Sea Survival.

The turtle also happens to be a valuable source of fat, says the publication.

Its co-author Mike Tipton, from Portsmouth University, agreed the castaway's story was theoretically possible, "provided some rainwater was available".

Urine, added Snorrason, was not advisable to drink, except in case of extreme emergency.

Seawater was also not an option, despite anecdotal evidence of people having survived on it in the past.

Jean-Yves Chauve, a French doctor specialising in extreme sailing survival, said he was "sceptical" about the claim, though he could not dismiss it out of hand.

He underlined that the castaway's food intake from fish, bird and turtle meat would have been protein-heavy, lacking sugar for proper brain function and vitamin C found in fruit and vegetables.

"In the hot conditions of this tropical region, he would have perspired a lot" and lost much moisture.

"Even with a few drops of rain every now and again, more than a year seems like a very, very long time", said Chauve.

To lessen moisture loss, Alvarenga would have required shelter from the sun, the experts said and it was reported on Tuesday that his boat had a small crawl-in container on board that could have served this purpose.
Read more on:    jose salvador alvarenga  |  france

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