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World's longest-surviving castaway Salvador Alvarenga accused of eating friend to survive 15 month ordeal at sea

Published 15/12/2015

Jose Salvador Alvarenga is embraced by his parents, Ricardo Orellana, right, and Maria Julia Alvarenga in San Salvador (AP)
Jose Salvador Alvarenga is embraced by his parents, Ricardo Orellana, right, and Maria Julia Alvarenga in San Salvador (AP)

Castaway José Salvador Alvarenga, who survived after being stranded at sea for 438 days, is being sued for $1m by the family of his dead friend, who accuse him of eating their relative to survive the ordeal.

In January 2014, José Salvador Alvarenga, a fisherman from El Salvador, washed ashore in the Marshall Islands, having drifted across the ocean for at least 5,500 miles after a storm hit his boat.

Jose Salvador Alvarenga has returned to his native El Salvador (AP)
Jose Salvador Alvarenga has returned to his native El Salvador (AP)

Although he emerged bedraggled, extremely underweight, scarred and heavily bearded, Alvarenga survived the 15 month ordeal. However, his crewmate Ezequiel Córdoba died after two months of surviving on just rainwater, birds and turtles.

Alvarenga recounted his experiences at sea and slow recovery to Jonathan Franklin for his book, 438 Days (Macmillan press).

In January this year Benedicto Perlera, his previous lawyer, sued him for $1m after Mr Alvarenga signed a book deal and switched firms. The book was published in October.

Now Cordoba’s family have also begun $1m legal action in which they accuse Mr Alvarenga of eating their relative.

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Maria Alvarenga holding a photograph of her son Jose Salvador Alvarenga (AP)
Maria Alvarenga holding a photograph of her son Jose Salvador Alvarenga (AP)

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Mr Alvarenga's new lawyer, Ricardo Cucalon, told El Salvador's El Diario de Hoy newspaper, that his client denied that the castaway had eaten his friend and had instead thrown his body into the water.

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

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

According to Alvarenga, Córdoba’s health began seriously declining after he was sick from eating raw meat and started refusing food. Describing the panic that took hold of him as he realised his friend was dying, Alvarenga said he screamed: “Don’t leave me alone! You have to fight for life! What am I going to do here alone?”

In April, Mr Córdoba’s family demanded that Mr Alvarenga hand over 50 per cent of the revenues from book sales.

Mr Cucalon said his client's book has done poorly in the US, with only 1,500 copies sold.

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