MAJURO: Pacific castaway Jose Salvador Alvarenga’s departure from the Marshall Islands was delayed yesterday for health reasons.
The 37-year-old from El Salvador, who claims he was adrift for 13 months in a small fishing boat, had been expected to leave the Pacific outpost today but medical staff advised against it, with Alvarenga still suffering dehydration.
Alvarenga arrived at a press conference yesterday clutching onto men on both sides and was helped up a flight of stairs and along a walkway to the venue.
“I want to thank the government of the Marshall Islands for all it has done and the friends who have helped me while here,” he said in brief comments before being whisked away for more medical tests without taking questions.
Alvarenga, who is from El Salvador, had lived for years in Mexico and set sail from there on a fishing trip in late 2012.
He said he became lost and drifted some 12,500 kilometres to the Marshalls in a small boat.
He said he survived by eating raw fish and birds as well as drinking turtle blood, urine and rainwater.
Marshall Islands Foreign Minister Phillip Muller said an investigation was continuing to verify his account but “we have been told by the Mexican government that so far the story as told has been substantiated”.
Alvarenga set sail with a young companion he described as a teenager named Xiguel, who starved to death four months into the ordeal because he would vomit raw fish and birds. His body was thrown overboard.
The victim’s family said from their humble home in the southern state of Chiapas that his name was Ezequiel and he was 24. They could not believe that he refused to eat.
The family, however, does not want a criminal investigation against Alvarenga. “It was a work accident,” the brother said.
“The only thing we want is to know what was the last thing that he told this man and what he did with my brother’s body,” said Ezequiel’s brother, Romeo Cordoba Rios.
Fellow fishermen in Chocohuital, a village in the southern state of Chiapas, remembered Alvarenga as a good man with a quirky diet that they said gives credence to his amazing story.
“He wasn’t picky. He ate everything,” his boss Bellardino Rodriguez said of fare including raw fish, turtle blood and even dog food. “We think that saved him.”