Marshall Islands Atoll Attends To Mexican Who Drifted 8,000 Miles

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Castaway reportedly departed in December 2012, washes ashore on Ebon

By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Feb. 3, 2014) – Two days after a Mexican castaway washed ashore on an isolated atoll in the Marshall Islands following an over 8,000 mile drift, local officials say he is gaining strength but cannot walk without help.

"We’ve been feeding him nutritious island food and he’s getting better," said Mayor Ione deBrum Saturday afternoon in a phone interview from Ebon Atoll, the southernmost cluster of coral islands in the Marshall Islands. "He has pain in both knees so he cannot stand up by himself. Otherwise, he’s okay."

The castaway said his name is Jose Ivan and claims he began his drift in December 2012 after setting out from an unknown location in Mexico for El Salvador in a 24-foot fiberglass boat with twin engines.

Ivan said he had a companion who died several months ago, according to Ola Fjeldstad, a Norwegian anthropology student doing research on Ebon Atoll who spoke with the man Friday.

There are virtually no islands in the more than 8,000-mile expanse of Pacific Ocean north of the equator between southern Mexico and the Marshall Islands. Had the drifter not washed onto the reef at Ebon, there is another thousand or more miles of open ocean before he might have washed ashore in Papua New Guinea or the Solomon Islands.

In the Marshall Islands, Ebon has a storied history as the atoll where in 1857 American Congregational missionaries established the first church in a country that is now devoutly Christian.

DeBrum said she and Ivan are communicating through drawings, since he can’t speak English and she can’t speak Spanish. "I’ve gotten to know him through pictures he’s drawing," she said. "He said he was on his way to El Salvador by boat when he started drifting."

But beyond that, details of how and why are sketchy, she said. "It’s been difficult trying to communicate with him," she added.

Despite communication difficulties, the Ebon Atoll community is going all out to help Ivan. "The community has been very friendly with him," deBrum said. "They’ve brought him clothes, food and mosquito coils (to ward off mosquitoes)."

Officials with the police department’s Sea Patrol confirmed Saturday that the agency’s surveillance and rescue patrol vessel departed at about 2 a.m. Majuro time Saturday to pick up Ivan and bring him back to Majuro, the capital. The patrol vessel was expected to arrive in Ebon Saturday night and depart Ebon on Sunday for the return to Majuro.

Acting Secretary of Foreign Affairs Gee Leong Bing said as soon as Ivan arrives in Majuro and his particulars can be verified, official contact will be made with Mexican government authorities to begin the repatriation process.

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