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Salvadoran castaway says boats ignored cries for help

Salvadorean castaway Jose Salvador Alvarenga speaks to journalists in an ambulance on his way to San Rafael hospital in Santa Tecla, El Salvador on February 11, 2014
Salvadorean castaway Jose Salvador Alvarenga speaks to journalists in an ambulance on his way to San Rafael hospital in Santa Tecla, El Salvador on February 11, 2014

The castaway who survived 13 months adrift in the Pacific says he cried for help as several ships passed by during his ordeal, ignoring his pleas, El Salvador's health minister said Wednesday.

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

In a short video released by the ministry, Alvarenga said from his hospital bed that he was "doing well" but asked to be left in peace.

"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.

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.

Family watch the broadcast of the arrival of Pacific castaway Jose Salvador Alvarenga at their house in Garita Palmera, El Salvador, on February 11, 2014
Family watch the broadcast of the arrival of Pacific castaway Jose Salvador Alvarenga at their house in Garita Palmera, El Salvador, on February 11, 2014

Alvarenga says he set off on an ill-fated shark fishing trip off southern Mexico in late 2012 before drifting 12,500 kilometers (8,000 miles) for more than a year in a seven-meter (24-foot) fiberglass boat.

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 that he almost lost any hope of returning to the world because he did not get support," Rodriguez told a news conference at the San Rafael National Hospital.

Turtle blood, raw fish

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

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.

Salvadorean doctor Manuel Bello speaks during a press conference about the health condition of his patient, castaway Jose Salvador Alvarenga, at the San Rafael hospital in Santa Tecla, El Salvador on February 12, 2014
Salvadorean doctor Manuel Bello speaks during a press conference about the health condition of his patient, castaway Jose Salvador Alvarenga, at the San Rafael hospital in Santa Tecla, El Salvador on February 12, 2014

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.

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

"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.

Alvarenga was unable to 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.

Alvarenga was reunited with his long-lost parents, Ricardo Orellana and Maria Julia Alvarenga, and 14-year-old daughter Fatima at the hospital. Pictures showed them hugging him tightly as he lay in bed.

Corn tortilla and sugary bread

His parents last saw him eight years ago and believed him dead, until he made global headlines after washing ashore in the Marshall Islands on January 30.

He was in and out of hospital in the Marshall Islands, suffering from dehydration and a range of ailments including back pain, swollen joints and lethargy.

People wait outside the family house of pacific castaway Jose Salvador Alvarenga in Garita Palmera 118 km. west from San Salvador, El Salvador, on February 11, 2014
People wait outside the family house of pacific castaway Jose Salvador Alvarenga in Garita Palmera 118 km. west from San Salvador, El Salvador, on February 11, 2014

Alvarenga told AFP last week that his crewmate, Ezequiel Cordoba, could not stomach the unusual diet and starved to death.

Cordoba's family in the southern Mexico state of Chiapas say they want Alvarenga to tell them what happened, though they do not blame him for his death.

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

But officials have said his story checks out, and survival experts concede living in such conditions is theoretically possible.

Fishermen in the Mexican village of Chocohuital backed up his story, 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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