independent

Friday 25 April 2014

Pacific survivor leaves hospital

Jose Salvador Alvarenga is embraced by his parents, Ricardo Orellana, right, and Maria Julia Alvarenga in San Salvador (AP)

The Salvadoran fisherman who says he drifted at sea for more than a year has left hospital after treatment for the psychological and physical effects of his journey.

Jose Salvador Alvarenga said he would not be returning to his home town of Garita Palmera, but he did not say where he was headed.

"I'm doing well, thank you," he told reporters yesterday. "Thank you everyone. God bless you."

He appeared strong and walked on his own, surrounded by family members, doctors and a lawyer.

Mr Alvarenga's story stunned the world when he washed up on a Pacific atoll several weeks ago, seemingly robust and barely sunburned. But he turned out to be swollen, dehydrated and in pain from the ordeal.

He said he survived on raw fish, turtles and bird blood and came close to giving up hope of being rescued after several large ships came near his small fishing boat but none tried to rescue him, even though sailors on at least one even waved at him.

All of the doctors who have seen Mr Alvarenga expressed concern about his mental state, saying he appeared shaken. He asked to be given as much privacy as possible amid an international media furore over his apparent ordeal.

Mr Alvarenga underwent a battery of tests at the hospital after returning home from the Marshall Islands, some 6,500-miles from his starting point in Mexico, where he was believed lost after bad weather threw his small fishing boat off course.

The medical team that examined him at the San Rafael Hospital in the Salvadoran capital said he was in remarkably good physical health, with no skin lesions from overexposure to the sun and no cardiovascular or kidney issues. His only physical problem, doctors said, was anaemia.

Salvadoran experts who looked at Mr Alvarenga's results said they did not doubt the veracity of his tale, which left many sceptical even without any alternate explanation for his sudden appearance on the Ebon atoll.

Mr Alvarenga said he had worked in a fishing village on the Pacific coast of Mexico's southern Chiapas state, where the boat sailed from.

A man with his nickname, "Cirilo," had been registered as missing with civil defence officials in the village. The officials said a small fishing boat carrying two men, the other named Ezequiel Cordova, disappeared during bad weather on November 17, 2012, and no trace of them or the craft was found during an intense two-week search.

Alvarenga has said that Mr Cordova died after about a month when he could not eat the raw fish and turtles.

Photos from the Marshall Islands published by Britain's Telegraph newspaper showed the boat that Mr Alvarenga purportedly arrived in.

It bore the hand-lettered name of a Chiapas fishing cooperative, Camaroneros de la Costa, for which Mr Alvarenga said he worked in Costa Azul near Tonala.

The photos also showed a large plastic cooler that Mr Alvarenga purportedly used to shelter himself from the sun and sea.

AP

Press Association

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