ByScott McCann, writer at
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Scott McCann

The world's longest-surviving castaway is being sued for $1 million after being accused of 'eating his colleague' by the grieving family of his former friend

In November 2012, 34-year-old Josa Salvador Alvarenga and 22-year-old Ezequiel Cordoba set off on what was meant to be a two day fishing trip off the coast of Mexico. Alvarenga convinced the young Ezequiel Cordoba to accompany him by paying him $50 for his two day labour, but the pair soon hit trouble. Their boat fell victim to a vicious storm conjuring 10 foot waves, knocking out the 25 foot boat’s communication systems, and washing their supplies overboard.

At first the story seemed to be that of a miracle, with Salvador Alvarenga being thought to be the only person ever to survive at sea for over a year. Now however, the family of Ezequiel Cordoba is suing castaway Jose Salvador Alvarenga for the act of cannibalizing their son.

Alvarenga (2nd R) hugs his mother Maria Julia Alvarenga (R) and his father Ricardor Orellana (2nd L)   Photo: REUTERS
Alvarenga (2nd R) hugs his mother Maria Julia Alvarenga (R) and his father Ricardor Orellana (2nd L) Photo: REUTERS

This allegation goes directly against everything that we were led to believe about the story

The doomed voyage has since been documented in a book called 438 days, by author Jonathan Franklin, the same author that documented the ordeal of the trapped Chilean miners in the book 33 Men.

438 Days tells the story of the harrowing voyage in eerie detail, describing how the pair survived for several months by catching fish and birds, and drinking turtle blood and rainwater. It seems Ezequiel Cordoba had the worse of the duo's luck, as he was poisoned by eating a rotten bird that had eaten a venomous, yellow-bellied sea snake. His condition became so bad that he even attempted to commit suicide by diving into the shark infested waters.

Eventually Cordoba started refusing food, leading to hallucinations. With his body emaciating rapidly, Cordoba eventually passed away but not before he could secure two promises from Alvarenga. These promise were:

  • Alvarenga was not to eat the corpse.
  • Find Cordoba's mother and tell her what happened.

This is a claim that the Cordoba family refutes

Ezequiel Cordoba
Ezequiel Cordoba

Although Alvarenga claims in the book he befriended the dead body and chatted to it for six days before realizing his own insanity and tossing it overboard, the Cordoba family is accusing him of cannibalism.

Incredibly, Alvarenga washed up in the Marshall Islands, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, in January 2014 after a lengthy 438 days adrift. At first his story was greeted incredulously, but eventually his claims were substantiated by scientists who pointed to his strength and experience as a fisherman as factors in his survival.

In March 2014, Alvarenga visited Mr. Cordoba's mother, Rosalia Rios, to deliver the message from her son

Jose Salvador Alvarenga steps on land, Photo: AFP
Jose Salvador Alvarenga steps on land, Photo: AFP

Benedicto Perlera, Mr. Alvarenga’s lawyer at the time, remembers the encounter:

"He told him how he cried at Ezequiel’s death, talking to him, telling him that he wasn’t dead and was only asleep.

In the end he had to throw him into the sea.

In the middle of the ocean he had no way of knowing the day, and did not have a calendar, but he believes it was around March and so that is how we shall remember him."

via the Telegraph

Eventually the relationship soured, with Alvarenga switching law firms and signing a book deal causing Benedictor Perlera to sue him for $1million. Then, following the October publication of 438 Days, Cordoba’s family also opted to sue for $1 million.

Speaking to El Salvadoran newspaper, El Diario de Hoy, Mr. Alvarenga's new lawyer Ricardo Cucalon stated

"I believe that this demand is part of the pressure from this family to divide the proceeds of royalties"
“Many believe the book is making my client a rich man, but what he will earn is much less than people think."

Cucalon emphasized that Alvarenga has always denied eating Cordoba, and even mentioned how poorly the book was doing in the US, with only 1,500 copies sold. This still hasn't stopped the Cordoba family seeking financial compensation. In April the family demanded that Mr. Alvarenga hand over 50 percent of the revenue.

Surely it's only a matter of time before some Hollywood studio snatches up the film rights for this book?


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