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Alleged castaway arrives back in civilization

MAJURO, Marshall Islands -- Sporting a bushy beard and clutching a can of Coke, a castaway who says he survived more than a year adrift in the Pacific Ocean arrived in the Marshall Islands capital Majuro on Monday.

A male nurse had to help the man previously identified as Jose Ivan down the gangplank of a police patrol boat after a 22-hour trip from the remote coral atoll where he washed ashore last week after apparently setting sail from Mexico on Dec. 24, 2012.

About 1,000 curious onlookers crowded the dock for a glimpse of the long-haired fisherman, who smiled and waved briefly before he was whisked away for a medical check-up at Majuro Hospital.

The castaway told U.S. ambassador Thomas Armbruster, who was acting as an interpreter for Marshall Islands authorities, that he was originally from El Salvador but had been living in Mexico for 15 years before his epic voyage.

“He said he is a shrimp and shark fisherman,” Armbruster said Monday in Majuro minutes after talking to him. “He looked better than one would expect.”

And foreign ministry officials said he told them during a debriefing that he was a 37-year-old whose full name was Jose Salvador Albarengo.

He said he lived in Tapachula, near the Mexican border with Guatemala, and worked for a company named Camoronera Dela Costa.

Albarengo said he was on a shark-fishing expedition with a youth named Xiquel when strong winds blew them off course and they became lost.

Albarengo said the boy, described as 15- to 18-years old, died a few weeks into the ordeal because he could not eat raw bird meat.

Marshall Islands immigration chief Damien Jacklick said authorities were still gathering information and the foreign affairs department planned to contact overseas officials to arrange his repatriation.

“With the help of the U.S. ambassador, we were able to obtain information on his family members in El Salvador and the United States,” he told AFP. “We hope this information will help us track down his family.”

Medics plan to give Albarengo a thorough check before he is interviewed by detectives.

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