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Heinz found the ‘ketchup boat guy’ after an international search

Bottles of red Heinz tomato ketchup are arranged on a store shelf.
(Stefani Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)

Ketchup brand Heinz finally found its man.

The condiment company earlier this month launched an international manhunt, looking for the sailor from Dominica who survived 24 days at sea with little more than a bottle of ketchup to sustain him. The company planned to buy him a new boat — but the surprisingly difficult trick was to find him first.

After sharing its quest on social media and enlisting the help of online sleuths and various government agencies, Heinz on Monday said it had found Elvis Francois in his native country and that the company is “working out the logistical details of gifting him his new boat.” The company credited local reporters at the Dominican news organization EmoNews for helping connect them.

When its search at first proved fruitless, the company began sharing pleas on social media bearing the hashtag #FindTheKetchupBoatGuy and taking other measures. In an Instagram post, Heinz said that in its investigation, it had inquired with the Colombian navy, which helped rescue Francois last month, and the government of Dominica, as well as “several Elvis impersonators” (a company representative confirmed that the people were posing as Elvis Francois, not Elvis Presley).

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Francois’s story was harrowingly cinematic: He had been repairing his boat near the island of Saint Martin, where he lives, in December when currents pulled the vessel out into the Caribbean Sea. He tried to call for help but had no signal, he said in news reports, and so he spent 24 days waiting for rescue. He survived on ketchup, garlic powder and Maggi seasoning cubes, according to officials, along with fresh rainwater he collected.

“At some point I lost hope and thought about my family, but I thank the coast guard,” he said in a video released by the Colombian navy. “If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be telling the story.”

Francois was finally discovered by people in a plane passing overhead who saw the word “help” he had written across the hull of his boat, according to reports, and he was picked up by a container ship.

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Without knowing for sure that it was Heinz brand ketchup that helped keep Francois alive (though the company assumed it was, given Heinz’s market dominance), the company decided to give him a “state of the art boat,” a Heinz representative said in an email, which might have been a neat publicity stunt/kind gesture on its own. But the plan to offer him “a new boat equipped with full navigational technology to avoid another disaster in the future” initially hit a snag when he couldn’t be found. And so Heinz took to social media, enlisting the public in the widening mission.

“We’re setting this message adrift into the sea of the internet, because if anyone can help us find him, it’s you,” read an Instagram post seeking leads. “If you or anyone you know can help us get in contact with Elvis Francois, please drop us a DM.”

Even after multiple posts, Francois remained under the radar. Heinz then planned to take the search international and to enlist “other Heinz markets around the world” to help the company track him down. Along the way, some wacky tips came in — or as the company’s representative wrote, “we’ve heard from some very interesting folks.” A group of internet sleuths was on the case, and the company also reached out to the prime minister of Colombia.

This story has been updated to include the news that Heinz located Francois.