On Monday, three Nigerian men were found on the rudder of a fuel tanker that arrived at the harbour of Gran Canaria, one of Spain’s Canary Islands, located off the northwest coast of Africa. The men survived the extremely harsh conditions of the 11-day journey over nearly 3,000 miles.
Two of the three migrants have now been returned to the tanker, set for deportation.
The third migrant is still admitted at a local hospital, where he is being treated for hypothermia and dehydration.
According to Spanish law, any migrant who does not seek asylum must be returned by the ship operator to the port where the journey originated – which in this case is Lagos, Nigeria.
A photo posted by the Spanish coast guard on Twitter showed the three men stowed away on the rudder under the hull of the ship, Alithini II.
According to Marine Traffic, the 183-metre ship had set sail for Spain from Nigeria on November 17. The ship, sailing under a Maltese flag, arrived in Las Palmas, the capital of Gran Canaria on Monday.
The ship’s captain confirmed the duration of the journey to the Red Cross.
The ship operator is required to provide the stowaways with temporary accommodation and return them to Lagos as soon as possible.
“The conditions of the journey are already an indication that something very serious may be behind it because the photos are incredible. We have never seen conditions like this where they have arrived alive,” said Helena Maleno, the director of migration NGO Walking Borders.
Maleno opined that the migrants should have, at least, been informed of their right to seek political asylum and questioned before being sent back to the ship.
“These people have to be in a state of shock. They need a couple of days to recover and from there they can explain what they were running from to have made that decision,” she added.
Spain’s Canary Islands, much like the Central Mediterranean route, are a popular gateway for African migrants trying to enter Europe. The Islands are just 100 kilometres west of Morocco, so Africans from various parts of the continent often make their way to the North African country for the long journey.
As bizarre as the story is, this is not the first time Nigerians are arriving on the Spanish coast in these conditions, though.
In December 2020, local Spanish press reported on a 14-year old Nigerian boy who also stowed away on the rudder of a ship headed for Gran Canaria.
The boy had reportedly heard 3 men planning how they intended on boarding a tanker to reach Spain. They took a canoe to the ship and climbed a ladder that led to a small compartment in its stern. The boy followed suit and found himself embarking on a journey he thought would last a day or two but actually lasted a horrific 2 weeks
The stowaways would take turns to lie down and sleep as the small space above the rudder could only take one person at a time.
Battling tidal waves, forces of nature, hunger and thirst, the conditions are incredibly dangerous and it is hard to estimate how many have died along the way.
Tens of thousands of migrants arrive on the archipelago in small boats every year, but the number of stowaways is especially worrisome. In 2020, 20 stowaways were rescued from ships and the numbers only seem to be mounting.
Africans from other countries have also been rescued, but the majority of the stowaways have been Nigerians arriving from Lagos.
Many opine that the determination of these migrants to leave their countries under such inhumane conditions is only indicative of the immense suffering they must have faced back home.
“To these men, death at sea is a far better option than being alive here, surviving on false hope alone,” said Nigerian Twitter user, Samuel Otigba.
Sources: Reuters, Vanguard