Salvadoran castaway accused of cannibalism, faces $1 million lawsuit
Share this on

Salvadoran castaway accused of cannibalism, faces $1 million lawsuit

A man from El Salvador who survived more than a year adrift in the Pacific Ocean has been accused of being a cannibal.

Jose Salvador Alvarenga, who claims to have survived more than a year adrift in the Pacific Ocean, has been accused of cannibalism and the family of his alleged victim has filed a lawsuit for $1million against him, Salvadoran media reports.

The defendant completely denies the accusations.

Alvarenga’s lawyer, Ricardo Cucalón, said the surviving man’s body had not been eaten and accused the family of the deceased of claiming part of the earnings from the castaway’s recently published book based on his ordeal.

The 36-year-old fisherman paid Ezequiel Córdoba, 22, to accompany him for two days of shark fishing off the coast of Mexico in November 2012.

A strong storm caused them to lose control of the boat, which sailed offshore and left the men adrift. They survived by eating raw fish and birds and had to drink turtle blood or their own urine to stay hydrated.

According to Alvarenga, one time he became so hungry that he scooped jellyfish up with his bare hands and swallowed them whole. “It burned the top part of my throat, but wasn’t so bad,” he said.


Unfortunately, only Alvarenga survived the ordeal. Córdoba died after four months of being adrift because he could not adapt to the system of survival.

“His stomach (Ezekiel) refused to digest raw meat. I cut the meat into small pieces and tried to feed it to him like a baby,” said Alvarenga.

According to Mexican media, on his deathbed, Ezequiel made Salvador promise to retain his body to give to his mother and to explain what had happened. Alvarenga sailed six days with the remains of the young man, until he decided to throw them overboard.

Shortly after returning to his native El Salvador, the residents of Alvarenga’s village began to accuse him of being a fraud and even drug dealer. Later the relatives of Ezequiel accused him of cannibalism, claiming that this was the reason for his survival.

Lie detector

To fend off the accusations, José had to undergo psychological tests and even a lie detector, to determine that his version of what happened was not false.

“I never thought of cannibalism,” said Alvarenga. “By then, I had trained myself to catch fish and turtles, and we always had a supply for five days. Ezequiel was in despair, he thought they wouldn’t save us and he did not eat. In the end he was so weak that he could not even talk,” he recalls .

After Córdoba’s death, Alvarenga refused to throw his body into the water, choosing to spend six days with the corpse to fight off loneliness.

“His departure was very hard for me, and I continued talking to him. On the sixth day I realized that I was going crazy, so I prayed for him and threw the body into the water,” he said.

According to the castaway, what saved him was his discipline, because even in the worst moments he ate three times a day and kept busy.

The book

After being rescued, Alvarenga became somewhat of a celebrity and an American journalist, Jonathan Franklin, who works for The Guardian, bought the rights to his story to write a book– 438 days –  which was published last month.

“I believe that this demand  is part of the pressure from this family to divide the proceeds of royalties,” said Ricardo Cucalon, Alvarenga’s lawyer.

“Many believe the book is making my client a rich man, but what he will earn is much less than people think,” he added.

According to reports, the book has not done well, with sales of about 1,500 copies in the U.S.

Franklin obtained dozens of hours of interviews with the castaway, who described in detail the brutal reality of life at sea for over a year until he was rescued in the Marshall Islands, South Pacific.

See also:

Colombia finds 18th century shipwreck laden with treasure: The San José