HONOLULU – A Colombian fisherman who was lost at sea for more than two months said he's grateful to God for his life and thanks those who rescued him.
The Colombian navy's press office on Thursday identified the survivor as Javier Eduardo Olaya. He and his three shipmates — who were from Ecuador — had been fishing near the protected marine sanctuary of Malpelo Island, off the coast of Colombia, the press office said.
The 29-year-old told a U.S. Coast Guard interpreter in Honolulu 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.
Olaya said he survived the ordeal by eating fish and seagulls, the U.S. Coast Guard said.
He said his three companions died at sea, but their bodies were not aboard the vessel that was adrift in a lightly traveled expanse of the ocean. He did, however, have the men's passports.
A Colombian navy official said their 23-foot vessel was never reported lost. The navy said the skiff was also never registered at a Colombian port as required.
A merchant ship spotted the skiff more than 2,000 miles southeast of Hilo, Hawaii in late April. The crew of the Nikkei Verde picked Olaya up and brought him near Honolulu on Wednesday. The 600-foot bulk carrier then transferred him to a small Coast Guard boat, which brought him to shore on Wednesday.
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.
The four sailors had left Colombia more than two months ago, the Coast Guard said. At some point, their skiff's engine failed and they were left adrift.
Colombia's consulate in San Francisco helped the man and paid for his return home. He's now with his wife and family.
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.