Salvadoran castaway says ships ignored cries for help

Salvadoran castaway says ships ignored cries for help

SAN SALVADOR - The castaway who survived 13 months adrift in the Pacific cried for help as several ships passed by during his ordeal, ignoring his pleas.

As Salvadoran Health Minister Maria Isabel Rodriguez relayed a new chapter in Jose Salvador Alvarenga's amazing tale Wednesday, the fisherman urged journalists to leave him in peace so that he can recover from his 12,500-kilometer (8,000-mile) odyssey.

Alvarenga, 37, spent his first full day back in his homeland in a hospital near San Salvador, where doctors said he was in impressive physical shape but needed psychological attention.

"He told us that he almost lost any hope of returning to the world because he did not get support," Rodriguez told a news conference.

"He told us how several boats passed by, including close to him. He asked for help and they did not want to help him."

One ship's crew waved back at him but did not stop to help the shaggy-haired castaway, who was only in his underwear, she said.

Another came so close that "it almost destroyed his little boat because it passed next to him," Rodriguez said.

Alvarenga says he set off on an ill-fated shark fishing trip off southern Mexico in late 2012, floating in a seven-meter (23-foot) fiberglass boat before washing ashore in the Marshall Islands on January 30.

A 24-year-old crewmate died four months into the voyage, unable to stomach a diet that was limited to rainwater, urine, turtle blood, raw fish and bird flesh, according to Alvarenga.

- 'No more questions' -

In a short video released by the health ministry, Alvarenga said from his hospital bed that he was "doing well" but pleaded with journalists who have followed his every more since he returned home to leave him alone.

"No more questions or pictures. I want to be alone with my family, that I be given time to be able to speak after I recover, because right now I am not in condition to give explanations," he said, wearing a blue hospital blouse and resting his left arm above his head.

He also asked reporters to leave his family alone after an emotional reunion with his parents and 14-year-old daughter Fatima, who last saw him eight years ago.

Pictures showed them hugging him tightly as he lay in bed. His family thought he was dead until he emerged in the Marshall Islands.

Alvarenga was taken to the San Rafael National Hospital after landing late Tuesday following a long flight home.

His psychological fragility contrasted with his good physical shape, which has impressed doctors given Alvarenga's unusual diet.

"His physical condition is enviable," Rodriguez said.

Alvarenga asked for a corn tortilla and sugary bread at the hospital.

Kidney and heart tests found nothing abnormal, but he underwent psychological evaluations to determine when he can return to his family's Pacific coast village of Garita Palmera.

"He gets tired quickly, loses a little bit of control. He is still not ready to communicate with the world. He cries easily," Rodriguez said.

Hospital director Yeerles Ramirez told AFP that Alvarenga would undergo more psychological tests on Thursday and "may get out Friday."

- Speechless homecoming -

After landing in San Salvador on Tuesday, Alvarenga was unable to utter any intelligible words to a gaggle of journalists, shaking his head and putting one hand in front of his eyes before being taken away in a wheelchair.

Alvarenga's miraculous story was met with some doubt when images first emerged of him with shaggy hair and a bushy beard, yet looking plump.

But officials have said his story checks out and fishermen in the Mexican village of Chocohuital backed it up, saying they went looking for him when he disappeared in 2012.

They say pictures of his boat in the Marshall Islands confirm it is his.

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