Thu, Aug 24, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Mexican fishermen face inquiry at home

AGENCIES , MEXICO CITY AND MAJURO, MARSHALL ISLANDS

Three Mexican fishermen who spent more than nine months drifting across the Pacific prepared to head home yesterday as new questions were raised about two companions who died during the epic ordeal.

A spokesman for Mexican President Vicente Fox said an inquiry would be launched into the fate of the dead men, who reportedly lasted just two months of the harrowing voyage, and for possible links to drug trafficking.

The three men, who said they left Mexico's Pacific coast fishing village of San Blas last November, were rescued two weeks ago more than 8,000km away near the Marshall Islands.

Their dramatic story of survival on the high seas -- staying alive by eating raw birds and fish, and drinking rainwater -- has captivated Mexico.

Few doubt the men, who are due back in Mexico tomorrow, spent nine months lost at sea, but there are doubts over other parts of the story.

All three men were first seen as national heroes but in recent days questions have arisen over why they went to sea in the first place and over two other men who died on board.

Salvador Ordonez, 37, and Jesus Vidana Lopez and Lucio Rendon, both 27, have already denied speculation in the Mexican media that they feasted on the bodies of their two colleagues.

They said the dead men -- hired help identified only as "Mr Juan" and a man with the obscure nickname "El Farsero" -- could not stomach the meager diet of raw birds and fish that they had been forced to eat to survive.

Asked about rumored drug connections, Ruben Aguilar, the spokesman for President Vicente Fox, told reporters on Tuesday that "there will no doubt have to be an investigation. This case merits an investigation."

"There are a series of questions and the corresponding authorities will have to investigate," Aguilar said.

But the men rejected suggestions that they were involved in drug trafficking.

"They are wrong because we went out to catch sharks," Jesus Vidana, one of the survivors, said in a television interview from the Marshall Islands, where they were finally returned to dry land on Tuesday.

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