Castaway says passing ships ignored his cries for help

February 13, 2014 - 6:07:42 am

SAN SALVADOR: The castaway who says he survived 13 months adrift in the Pacific cried for help as several ships passed by during his ordeal but they ignored his pleas, El Salvador’s health minister said yesterday.

After meeting Jose Salvador Alvarenga (pictured) in a hospital, Maria Isabel Rodriguez said the fisherman was in good physical shape but that needs psychological attention following his odyssey.

Alvarenga, 37, spent the night at a hospital near San Salvador after landing late Tuesday following a long flight home from the Marshall Islands, where he washed ashore two weeks ago.

Alvarenga says he set off on an ill-fated shark fishing trip off Mexico’s southern coast in late 2012 before drifting 12,500 kilometres for more than a year.

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

“He told us how several boats passed by, including close to him. He asked for help and they did not want to help him,” Rodriguez told a news conference at the San Rafael National Hospital.

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.

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

“His physical condition is enviable,” Rodriguez said.

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

Tests on his kidneys and heart found nothing abnormal, but he will undergo a psychological evaluation to determine when he can return to his home village of Garita Palmera and his family on the Pacific coast.

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

Alvarenga did not utter any intelligible words to a gaggle of news cameras as he arrived, carried in a wheelchair, at San Salvador airport on Tuesday. He shook his head, waved and put one hand in front of his eyes before being wheeled away.


See also page 12