Man lost at sea says he survived on ketchup for 24 days

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jan 20 2023 03:10 AM | Updated as of Jan 20 2023 03:11 AM

BOGOTA—A man from the Caribbean island of Dominica says he survived 24 days lost at sea in a sailboat by eating ketchup before being rescued in Colombian waters, the country's naval authority said.

"I had no food. There was only a bottle of ketchup that was on the boat, garlic powder and (bouillon cubes) Maggi. So I mixed it up with some water for me to survive 24 days in the sea," Elvis Francois, 47, said in English in a video released by the Colombian Navy. 

The islander had the word "help" carved on the hull of the boat when he was found 120 nautical miles northwest of Puerto Bolivar in the northern department of La Guajira. 

Francois said he saw other boats pass by and tried to flag them down, even lighting a fire on his vessel, but they did not see him.

Francois bailed water to keep from sinking.

"The final days, about the 15th of January, I saw a plane. I had a mirror. I was making some signals," he said, describing how he angled the glass to catch the glare of the sun and draw attention. 

"They passed over the boat twice so I realized they saw me," he continued. "I am grateful for being alive today because of them."

The aircraft crew informed the Navy, who then rescued Francois with the help of a merchant ship. 

Francois added: "24 days, no land. Nobody to talk to. Don't know what to do. Don't know where you are. It was rough. A certain time I lose hope. I think about my family."

Video released by the Navy shows a doctor examining Francois, who appears to be in good health.

"It was very rough. I don't know how I am alive today but I am alive. And I am grateful for that," Francois said.

He was working to repair a sailboat off a harbor on the Caribbean island of St. Maarten in the Netherlands Antilles in December last year when the weather turned foul and he was swept out to sea, the Navy said.

"Without having any knowledge of navigation he was lost and disoriented at sea. His efforts to maneuver the vessel and the equipment on board were to no avail," the statement added. 

Francois tried to make calls on his cell phone, but he ran out of signal. 

He was handed over to the immigration authorities to coordinate his return to his country.