Castaway's tale too amazing for some

CASTAWAY: Jose Salvador Alvarenga walks with the help of a Majuro Hospital nurse in Majuro.
CASTAWAY: Jose Salvador Alvarenga walks with the help of a Majuro Hospital nurse in Majuro.

A man who says he survived more than a year at sea has recounted his ordeal, but doubts have been cast on his story.

Last week fisherman Jose Salvador Alvarenga, 37, washed up on a remote atoll in the Marshall Islands, looking disoriented and clad only in underpants.

He claimed to have been adrift since December 2012, and said he survived drinking turtle blood and catching fish with his bare hands.

As he was helped ashore after officials took him to the Marshall Islands capital Majuro, he said: "I'm alive - I'm alive and I can't believe it", The Daily Mail reported.

Alvarenga was taken to hospital to be treated for dehydration and joint pain but was otherwise in a stable condition, officials said.

He told media from hospital his first words upon sighting land after 13 months were "Oh, God".

"I had just killed a bird to eat and saw some trees," he said.

"I cried, 'Oh God'. I got to land and had a mountain of sleep. In the morning I woke up and heard a rooster and saw chickens and saw a small house. I saw two native women screaming and yelling. I didn't have any clothes - I was only in my underwear and they were ripped and torn."

Various details recounted by Alvarenga seemed "sketchy", and "he sometimes appeared to contradict his story", The Telegraph wrote.

He said he was off the coast of Mexico on a one-day fishing trip with companion, a 15-year-old named Ezekiel, when the motor on their boat stopped working. After a few days near land, they drifted into the Pacific Ocean.

Ezekiel died four months into the 12,500-kilometre voyage, and Alvarenga said that was when he contemplated suicide.

"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," he said.

He lived off birds, turtles, fish and small sharks, and would frequently drink his own urine.

"When you need to eat, when you need to drink, you keep your mind alive. And you pray. I prayed to God all the time. I prayed to stay alive," he said.

Alvarenga is reportedly from El Salvador and officials were working to track down his family members, including his 10-year-old daughter.

But with no identification and sketchy details in his story, some were initially skeptical of his account.

Acting secretary of foreign affairs for the Marshall Islands Gee Bing said it was an "incredible" story, but he was not sure he believed it, The Guardian reported.

"When we saw him, he was not really thin compared to other survivors in the past," Bing said.

"I may have some doubts. Once we start communicating with where he's from, we'll be able to find out more information."

United States ambassador Tom Armbruster was also in Majuro to greet Alvarenga.

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

"But it's also hard to imagine how someone might arrive on Ebon out of the blue. Certainly this guy has had an ordeal, and has been at sea for some time."

Sydney-based oceanographer Erik van Sebille said there was a good chance a boat drifting off Mexico's west coast would eventually be carried by currents to the Marshall Islands.

The journey would typically take 18 months to two years depending on the winds and currents, he said. although he said 13 months was possible.