Mexican Village Defends Rescued Fishermen as Local Heroes

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Three fishermen who say they endured a nine-month ordeal lost at sea are heroes to the people of this fishing village, despite media skeptics who have cast doubt their epic survival story.

"This is a miracle from God," said San Blas fisherman Salvador Velasco, 48. "As fishermen, we take a lot of risks and depend on God's will, and those who have criticized them are people who don't want to accept this."

Lucio Rendon, Salvador Ordonez and Jesus Vidana say they left San Blas on Oct. 28, 2005, on a shark-fishing expedition that went awry. They were rescued Aug. 9 by a Taiwanese fishing ship near the Marshall Islands, 5,000 miles away.

CountryWatch: Mexico

Upon their return to Mexico City Friday, the fishermen were bombarded with questions by reporters wondering about their remarkably good health and their survival after being exposed to the elements in a 27-foot open boat.

The trio says they survived by taking shelter from the sun under a blanket, eating raw fish and birds and drinking rain water and their urine.

In San Blas, a town of 9,000 with only a few paved streets where people bring out chairs onto the sidewalk to chat with their neighbors, residents defended the men and said doubters know little about the ocean and fishermen's survival skills.

"They were washing themselves with rain water because they knew the salt in ocean water would burn their skin," said Laura Hernandez, a 30-year-old fisherman's wife, suggesting that may be why the trio had no visible scars.

The fishermen defended their story at a news conference in Mexico City where reporters challenged every detail of their ordeal and asked them if they would take a lie-detector test. The men agreed.

"Why do they keep saying those things if the men already said they would take a lie-detector test?" asked Teresa Gonzalez, Hernandez' neighbor and also a fisherman's wife. "Their adventure seems incredible, but God is great and protected them."

The fishermen said they set out with the boat's owner who hired them and another man who died of starvation after refusing to eat raw fish and birds.

They said they met both men a day before the trip and knew the man who contracted them only as "Mr. Juan," raising speculations they could have been hired to go out to sea to fetch drugs dropped in the ocean by smugglers.

Mexico's attorney general says there is no evidence that the fishermen were smuggling drugs, but that officials would continue to look into the case because San Blas is considered to be in a drug trafficking zone.

The fishermen have vehemently denied those reports.

"They survived because they had a strong will to live," said Abraham Murillo, an 84-year-old retired teacher and fisherman. "When one has the desire to live, one can go through that and more."

Ordonez and Vidana, whose 4-month-old daughter was born while he was at sea, returned to their hometowns in Oaxaca and Sinaloa, on Mexico's Pacific coast.

Rendon the only one originally from San Blas, shunned the spotlight Saturday and remained behind closed doors at his grandmother's house, where armed state policemen kept throngs of reporters away so he could spend time with him family alone.

Jose Cruz, a 52-year-old fisherman with skin thickened by years of exposure to the sun and ocean, said he doubted the three were involved in drug smuggling.

"I don't believe it because all of them come from poor families," Cruz said. "But whatever they were doing, it is a miracle by God, that's the pure truth. They were born again."