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Colombian Fisherman Survives 2 Months Adrift In Pacific Ocean

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HONOLULU — A Colombian fisherman has been reunited with his wife and family after spending two months adrift in the Pacific Ocean, an ordeal that he says left his three shipmates dead.

A merchant ship rescued the man more than 2,000 miles southeast of Hawaii, and he was brought to Honolulu in good condition Wednesday.

The four sailors left Colombia more than two months ago, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

They had been fishing near the protected marine sanctuary of Malpelo Island, off the coast of Colombia, the Colombian navy's press office said. But their skiff's engine failed, leaving them adrift in a lightly travelled expanse of the ocean.

javier eduardo olaya

The man said his three companions, who were from Ecuador, died at sea. However, their bodies were not aboard the skiff, and it was unclear how they died. The man did, however, have their passports.

The survivor ate fish and seagulls to stay alive, the Coast Guard said. The Colombian navy's press office on Thursday identified him as Javier Eduardo Olaya, 29.

A navy official said the men's 23-foot vessel was never reported lost. The skiff was also never registered at a Colombian port as required.

"He thanks the people that picked him up, for rescuing him. He says again he's very thankful to God."

Olaya told a U.S. Coast Guard interpreter in Honolulu, where he was brought ashore, that it felt good to be back on land.

"He thanks the people that picked him up, for rescuing him. He says again he's very thankful to God,'' said Petty Officer 2nd Class Simey Luevano, who interpreted for Olaya during a short interview filmed by the Coast Guard. "And the hope that his faith gave him and his mother.

"And he feels very bad for what happened to his friends that he was on board with. He would have loved it if his friends from the boat would have been here with him,'' Luevano said as he interpreted for the fisherman.

The merchant ship spotted the skiff in late April. The crew of the Nikkei Verde picked Olaya up and brought him near Honolulu. The 600-foot bulk carrier then transferred him to a small Coast Guard boat, which brought him to shore Wednesday.

javier eduardo olaya
Javier Eduardo Olaya disembarks a merchant ship Wednesday in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Coast Guard video shows Olaya dressed in a black T-shirt, jeans, a baseball cap and a life vest as he gingerly climbed down a ladder to the Coast Guard's vessel.

Colombia's consulate in San Francisco helped the man and paid for his return home. He's now with his wife and family.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Tara Molle said the Coast Guard wasn't investigating the case because it falls outside its purview.

The mariner isn't a U.S. citizen and his skiff wasn't U.S.-flagged, she said. The Coast Guard's responsibility in this case was to make sure the man was rescued and brought to safety, she said.

In 2014, a Salvadoran fisherman washed ashore on the tiny Pacific atoll of Ebon in the Marshall Islands after drifting at sea for 13 months.

Jose Salvador Alvarenga, who was then 37, left Mexico for a day of shark fishing in December 2012. He said he survived on fish, birds and turtles before his boat washed ashore 5,500 miles away.

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