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Castaway goes to ground awaiting medical all-clear

El Salvadoran castaway Jose Salvador Alvarenga (L) is helped into a press conference in the Marshall Islands capital of Majuro on February 6, 2014 © AFP/File

El Salvadoran castaway Jose Salvador Alvarenga (L) is helped into a press conference in the Marshall Islands capital of Majuro on February 6, 2014 © AFP/File

MAJURO, Marshall Islands, Feb 9 – El Salvadoran castaway Jose Salvador Alvarenga went to ground in the Marshall Islands Sunday, with phone calls blocked and escorts to and from his hotel room as he awaits medical clearance to travel home.

Alvarenga, who washed up on remote Ebon Atoll in the Marshall Islands 11 days ago saying he had drifted for 13 months across the Pacific Ocean from Mexico, has been staying at the Marshall Islands Resort in Majuro after discharging himself from the hospital Friday.

He has scarcely been seen since, with an official at the resort saying calls to Alvarenga’s room had been blocked at the government’s request.

“Foreign Affairs has instructed us to tell callers if they want to talk to him they should call Foreign Affairs,” she said, confirming that the hotel had fielded many calls for the castaway.

On the rare occasions Alvarenga has emerged since Friday he has been surrounded by a team of expatriate volunteer teachers who are staying in his room, safeguarding his apparent wish not to speak to the press about his ordeal at sea.

Except for a brief thank you at a media conference Thursday, he has not spoken directly to any media organisation since early last week, despite intense public interest in his extraordinary tale.

Majuro Hospital officials said Alvarenga was not happy at being bombarded by telephone calls at the hospital, and returned to his hotel room Friday after an overnight stay.

Hospital medical chief of staff doctor Kennar Briand said Alvarenga’s doctor did not discharge him Friday.

“He discharged himself,” said Briand.

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“He said he was getting too many calls from people claiming to be his relative.”

Briand said his examinations and laboratory tests show Alvarenga’s health is improving, with a possible medical discharge on Monday.

“On Monday, laboratory tests will be repeated and based on what happens, his doctor will decide the next steps,” Briand said.

Briand has treated numerous drifters who washed into the Marshall Islands or were rescued at sea by fishing trawlers and brought to Majuro for medical care.

“I don’t know if anyone has drifted for 13 months (and survived),” said Briand, who oversees medical services at the 80-bed hospital in the capital of the Marshall Islands.

Some had arrived in extremely poor health after being lost at sea for less than half the time Alvarenga was, he said.

He recalled the trio of Mexicans who survived a nine-month drift from Mexico across the Pacific in 2006 and were treated at Majuro Hospital when they arrived in the capital.

“There were some suspicions” surrounding the Mexicans’ story and medical officials were asked to confirm that they had actually drifted for nine months before being picked up by a Marshall Islands fishing boat in the central Pacific, said Briand.

“But that’s not our job,” he added.

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He said it was surprising Alvarenga could “be that strong when he came in” after such a long drift.

“I remember some guys, I think (they were from) Kiribati. They were out in the open ocean for six months.

“When they came in they couldn’t stand. They were all lying on the bottom of the boat.”

Reports from the owner of Alvarenga’s fishing boat and his fishing colleagues in Chiapas state in southern Mexico confirm that he and 23-year-old Ezekiel Cordoba went on what was planned as a one or two-day fishing expedition in late 2012. Cordoba died four months into the drift, according to Alvarenga.

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