Mystery at Sea: Man Found Drifting on Raft

Police are attempting to question a modern-day "Robinson Crusoe," rescued from a raft 30 miles out to sea between Norway and Denmark, hoping to uncover his real identity.

Taken into custody by Swedish police in the town of Gothenburg, the man, who claims that his name is George Williams, told police that he wants to make his way to New York.

The man said he had applied for U.S. citizenship at the American embassy in London.

During a police interrogation, he said that he was born in Capetown, South Africa in 1959 to Russian and Jewish parents. Fluent in English, he claimed to have lived in Israel and America before being discovered floating on the raft made of four small oil drums and a wood pallet tied together.

But he would not disclose any details of how he came to be in the freezing waters, saying only that he was cast overboard from a British ship.

Police Suspicious

Before being picked up by the crew of a Norwegian gas tanker, the Berge Odin, he told the police that he had spent almost five days and four nights at sea. A spokesman for the Swedish police disputed his claims, saying that "according to experts we have consulted, it would have been impossible for him to have survived more than 12-14 hours in those conditions."

Although the Norwegian crew initially believed him to be in good shape, an official from Bergesen, the shipping company, later told The Times of London that "his condition is worse than first assumed. He is suffering from hypothermia, is dehydrated and exhausted."

The official said that he was fortunate to be found at all, given the conditions at sea.

"Temperatures were at freezing point, and the raft would stand only minor waves," the official said.

In fact, the man was almost not picked up by the crew, who initially mistook him for a floating piece of debris before realizing that he was a human being.

A spokesman for the Rescue Co-ordination Centre for Southern Norway, in Sola, said: "He had hardly any clothes on him and was frozen through. You hear these kind of Robinson Crusoe stories from other parts of the world, but not very often here in the far north."

Speaking to The Times of London, Jan Haakon Pettersen, the deputy chief executive of Bergesen, said that the castaway, "did not want to say any more before meeting a lawyer."

Next week, the Swedish police plan to check the man's claims with the American embassy, among others.