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article imageSalvadoran castaway undergoes psychological tests

By Laurent THOMET (AFP)     Feb 13, 2014 in World

The Salvadoran fisherman who says ships ignored his cries for help during a 13-month sea odyssey underwent psychological tests Thursday to determine whether he is fit to return to his family's village.

Doctors say Jose Salvador Alvarenga returned to his homeland in impressive physical shape despite his ordeal but they have voiced concerns about his mental health.

San Rafael National Hospital director Yeerles Ramirez told AFP that psychologists were talking with the 37-year-old fisherman and that they will decide whether he is fit to go home, possibly Friday.

Alvarenga, who spent a second night at the hospital outside San Salvador, urged journalists to leave him in peace so he can recover from his 12,500-kilometer (8,000-mile) journey.

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.

Health Minister Maria Isabel Rodriguez told reporters on Wednesday that Alvarenga had lost hope of finding land after several ships ignored his cries for help.

"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 wearing only his underwear, she said.

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

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.

A man holds a newspaper with the a picture of castaway Jose Salvador Alvarenga in the front page  in...
A man holds a newspaper with the a picture of castaway Jose Salvador Alvarenga in the front page, in Santa Tecla, El Salvador on February 12, 2014
Johan Ordonez, AFP

- 'No more questions' -

In a short video released by the health ministry, Alvarenga said from his hospital bed Wednesday that he was "doing well" but pleaded with journalists who have followed his every move 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 gown 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.

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.

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

-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 seemingly 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.

More about Marshalls, Mexico, Salvador, Transport, Survival
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