Stowaways travel from Nigeria to Canary Islands on ship’s rudder for 11 days

Three African stowaway migrants who traveled for 11 days on a ship’s rudder from Lagos to the Canary Islands in Spain have been rescued by the Spanish coast guard, authorities report.

The large ship flying the Maltese flag arrived in Las Palmas in Gran Canaria after departing from Lagos in Nigeria on November 17 and traveling up the coast of West Africa, according to ship-tracking website Marine Traffic.

Over the course of the voyage, it is understood that at least three migrants and refugees had been clinging to the slender metallic rudder with their feet hanging a few feet above the Atlantic Ocean. The three men can be seen perched on the oil tanker’s rudder in a picture that Spain’s coastguard posted on Twitter on Monday.

“This afternoon, the Salvamar Nunki (a coastguard boat) rescued three stowaways located on the rudder blade of the ship Althini II, anchored in the docks of the port of Las Palmas and coming from Nigeria,” the Salvamento Maritimo, the Spanish sea search and rescue agency, wrote on Twitter on Monday.

The men when found appeared to be suffering from hypothermia and dehydration. They were met by medical personnel at the dock and were swiftly transported to the hospital, a local government official from the Canary Islands informed the Spanish news site EFE.

One of the migrants had to be transported to a separate hospital on the island because of his more acute condition.

What Outcome for Stowaway migrants?

According to stowaway laws, the three migrants who were rescued ought to be sent back home, a police spokesman reportedly told Reuters on Tuesday.

A spokesperson for the Canary Islands police said it was up to the ship’s operator to look after stowaways, give them temporary housing, and return them back to where they came from as quickly as possible.

However, according to Helena Maleno, director of the non-governmental organization Walking Borders, the migrants might be permitted to stay in Spain if they apply for asylum.

“On several previous occasions, stowaways were able to remain in Spain with political asylum,” Maleno said.

This ‘won’t be the last’

Even though it is exceedingly risky, stowaways have been seen traveling on commercial ships’ rudders to the Canary Islands for years.

In October 2020, four individuals hid for ten days on the rudder of an oil tanker leaving Lagos before being found by authorities when the ship reached Las Palmas. A 14-year-old teenager who arrived that year described his terrifying two-week journey to the Spanish newspaper El Pais.

Txema Santana, the Canary Islands’ migration adviser, said in a tweet that the most recent arrivals “won’t be the last” and that “stowaways don’t always have the same luck.”

Santana estimated in September that over 1,000 migrants and refugees had perished or gone missing while attempting to reach the Spanish islands this year.

According to the Interior Ministry, the number of migrants who entered the archipelago illegally by sea decreased by 17.6% from a year earlier to 14,875 in the first ten months of 2022.


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