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Castaway's arrival 'surprised' islanders

Fisherman Jose Salvador Alvarenga drew pictures to tell his story to bewildered islanders living on Ebon Atoll.

Last updated: 16 Feb 2014 11:42
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Alvarenga was greeted by Salvadoran politicians upon his arrival at the international airport of El Salvador [EPA]

Fresh details have emerged about the arrival of a castaway on Ebon Atoll in the Pacific after 13 months adrift at sea.

Two residents on the island of Eneaitok told AP news agency that they were surprised to see Jose Salvador Alvarenga, 37, standing on a beach and waving his arms in the air while holding a knife.

"We weren't scared, just surprised," said Amy Libokmeto, one of Eneaitok's two residents.

"As we approached him, I used broken English and motioned to the knife and told him, 'Put away, put away'".

Libokmeto and her fellow islander Russell Laijedrik would have been the first humans that Alvarenga saw since his travelling companion died during their ordeal at sea.

They alerted the local mayor, Ione de Brum, who in turn gathered together the island's health assistant, her chief of police and Ola Fjelstad, the only other foreigner on Ebon.

Phone call initially refused

The entire atoll has fewer than 700 residents and only has one telephone.

De Brum discovered her son had learned some Spanish from the children's television show Dora the Explorer. A few Spanish words and some pictures drawn with black marker on paper helped Alvarenga to communicate with the islanders.

"He was so hungry to give us information he kept talking fast but we couldn't understand him," said the mayor, adding that she initially refused to allow him to use the island's phone.

"He wanted to contact his family but I was concerned because we were unsure of who he was, his motives or if he had other friends (on ships nearby) that he would alert - I just did not know and did not want to risk it," she said.

A US study at the University of Hawai'i of the prevailing wind and current conditions has supported Alvarenga's tale of survival, with a model tracing a remarkably narrow path across the Pacific to pass within 190km of Ebon.

The Salvadoran, who has been reunited with his family, gave the fibreglass boat he had travelled more than 10,000km on to Libokmeto and Laijedrik. It is now used to carry cargo and passengers on Ebon.

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Source:
AFP
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