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Castaway who survived on turtle blood, fish for a year released from hospital

The Salvadoran fisherman who says he survived 13 months adrift in the Pacific was released from hospital on Tuesday after a week-long stay.

world Updated: Feb 19, 2014 21:48 IST
Salvadoran fisherman,adrift Pacific,Jose Salvador Alvarenga

The Salvadoran fisherman who says he survived 13 months adrift in the Pacific was released from hospital on Tuesday after a week-long stay.

Jose Salvador Alvarenga said he will now travel to his native village, but it is not clear if he plans to stay there or just visit.

"I am going to try to overcome everything that has happened to me, but I am OK. I am happy and I give thanks to God," Alvarenga told a news conference at a hotel in the capital San Salvador.

Earlier in the day he had said he did not want to return to his coastal village of Garita Palmera.

But at the press conference, in which he spoke little, he said he now plans to return on Wednesday. He was accompanied by his parents and an attorney.

Castaway fisherman Jose Salvador Alvarenga (C) sits with his father Ricardor Orellana (front R) and his mother Maria Julia (front L) near other family members during a news conference in San Salvador. Reuters

"We are going to take him to Garita Palmera. He will decide if he wants to stay there for a few days or it will be a short visit of just a few hours" to see his 14-year-old daughter Fatima, said the attorney, Benedicto Perlera. At an earlier encounter with journalists pressing him to tell his story, Alvarenga, 37, said "I don't remember."

Doctors who have performed physical and psychological tests on Alvarenga say he has developed a phobia of the sea. His home village is on the Pacific coast 118 kilometers (74 miles) west of the capital.

Wearing a blue long-sleeve shirt and khaki pants, Alvarenga earlier waved at onlookers and hugged his mother and father outside the emergency room exit of the San Rafael National Hospital.

The fisherman returned to his homeland last week following an odyssey that had taken him from Mexico, where he had been living, to the Marshall Islands.

Alvarenga washed ashore in the Marshalls on January 30, telling reporters he had survived a 12,500-kilometer (8,000-mile) voyage in a seven-meter (24-foot) fibreglass boat after leaving Mexico's Pacific coast in late 2012.

Alvarenga says a 24-year-old companion died during the trip because he could not stomach a diet of urine, turtle blood, raw fish and bird flesh.

Doctors declared Alvarenga in remarkable physical health despite his ordeal.

Psychologically weak
But they warned last week that he was psychologically weak, prescribing him antidepressants and anxiety medication.

"The important thing is for him to start having contact with his family ... with the people he did not have contact with while he was a castaway," psychiatrist Angel Fredi Sermeno told reporters.

Health Minister Maria Isabel Rodriguez said Alvarenga would not need surgery to treat a spine injury and would instead be treated with physiotherapy.

Rodriguez said last week that Alvarenga told her that several ships had ignored his cries for help, with one crew waving at him and another vessel nearly crashing into his boat.

His stunning survival story was initially met with scepticism but experts said it was theoretically possible and officials like Rodriguez believe him.

The fishermen from the southern Mexico village from which he sailed told AFP that the licence number on the boat seen in pictures matched their records.

They also said they had searched for Alvarenga for days after his disappearance in late 2012.

A University of Hawaii study of the prevailing wind and current conditions has supported his tale, with a model tracing a remarkably narrow path across the Pacific to pass within 120 miles of Ebon Atoll, where he landed.

Ebon Mayor Ione de Brum told AFP that Alvarenga "managed to swim his boat ashore" on the night of January 29.

First Published: Feb 19, 2014 21:39 IST