WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) – The Salvadoran man who says he spent more than a year drifting across the Pacific Ocean before finally making landfall in the Marshall Islands last week made a brief public appearance Thursday looking much weaker than he did earlier in the week.
Jose Salvador Alvarenga greeted about 50 officials and media at the Marshall Islands Resort hotel where he is staying. Sporting a haircut and a shave, he was assisted into the room by two people while others stood by ready to help.
Speaking in a low voice, he thanked the government and his friends for their help, but declined to take questions. The Associated Press listened into the meeting by cellphone and had it described by an official who declined to be named because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media.
"He walked in but he needed a lot of help," the official said. "I would say he made an impression that is really now far more consistent with the journey he said he made. He was much weaker, extremely tired looking, much less animated and was speaking extremely slowly. He looked exhausted, frankly. Like someone who has run two or three marathons."
Alvarenga's spritely appearance Monday when he greeted hundreds of well-wishers in the capital Majuro after making landfall last week on a remote atoll had many questioning his story. He earlier told officials he left Mexico in late 2012 with another fisherman, who later died, for a day of shark fishing when a storm threw them off course and they began drifting.
Officials at the meeting said Alvarenga needed to be taken back to the hospital for more medical checks and it would likely be three or four days before he was fit enough to travel back to El Salvador.
Also speaking at the meeting was the Marshall Islands foreign minister, Phillip Muller, and Mexican diplomat Chris Clay Mendoza.
Muller said the Marshall Islands was happy to live up to its humanitarian obligations and do everything it could to assist Alvarenga.
Clay Mendoza said he'd immediately departed from Manila for the Marshall Islands after initial reports indicated Alvarenga was a Mexican national. He said he was now assisting El Salvador in its efforts to repatriate Alvarenga.