IOM helps Salvadorian migrant adrift at sea for a year to return home

Posted: 
02/11/14

El Salvador -  After drifting at sea for 14 months and recovering from his ordeal with the help of people in the Marshall Islands who provided food, water and clean clothes, José Salvador Alvarenga, a 36-year-old fisherman from El Salvador, is returning home today with IOM assistance.

Working with the governments of the Marshall Islands and El Salvador, IOM handled the flight arrangements and paid for Alvarenga’s transport home under its Humanitarian Assistance for Stranded Migrants Fund (HASM), which was created in 2006 and has provided direct assistance to more than 2,200 vulnerable stranded migrants.  

Alvarenga’s case received international attention when he was found on Ebon, a small island of only 22 square miles, located in the southernmost reaches of the Republic of the Marshall Islands. 

Alvarenga told his rescuers that he and another fisherman had set off in late 2012 from Mexico on a short fishing expedition when they encountered engine problems following a storm.  The other fisherman died after four months, but Alvarenga drifted for a total of 14 months, surviving on fish, turtles and seagulls, until landing in the Marshall Islands earlier this month.

After having been medically cleared to travel by the hospital in Majuro, Alvarenga boarded a plane accompanied by a representative of the Government of El Salvador.  He is scheduled to arrive in El Salvador today (11/2).

Alvarenga’s parents are overjoyed at the news of his safe return home.  According to his father, his son migrated to Mexico some 15 years ago and they had not heard from him since.

“My son always liked fishing.  Since he was a child he managed to catch fish; I think that helped him survive these past 14 months,” explained his father, Ricardo Alvarenga.

His parents and a 14-year-old daughter, who will meet her father for the first time, will join Delbert Field, IOM Chief of Mission in El Salvador, at the airport to welcome Alvarenga home.

“IOM has an office in the Marshall Islands, which expedited all of the arrangements for his return home.  IOM is also present in El Salvador, where we have been in constant contact with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” said Field.

The IOM office in the Marshall Islands previously assisted in the repatriation of seven people from Papua New Guinea in December 2009, who had spent 60 days adrift in the open ocean. 

For more information, please contact

Adriana Granados
IOM El Salvador
Tel.: +503 2521 0535
Email: pressiomsansalvador@iom.int  or iomsansalvador@iom.int

IOM El Salvador Chief of Mission Delbert Field (right) welcomes  José Salvador Alvarenga (left), the 36-year-old fisherman from El Salvador who was returning home through the assistance of IOM. © IOM 2014