Three Nigerian Men Made it Alive After Voyaging on a Rudder for 11 Days

by Amala Suman1 year ago
Picture Three Nigerian Men Made it Alive After Voyaging on a Rudder for 11 Days

Illegal border crossings are nothing new, but lately, people’s methods of crossing borders have been unimaginable. Three Nigerian stowaways decided to sail to the Canary Islands on a ship’s rudder blade. They made it through an unfathomable 11-day voyage surviving in a cramped area that was bound to present life-threatening difficulties. Here’s how they made it.

The Nigerian Stowaways’ Critical Rescue Operation from the Ship Alithini II‘s Rudder Blade

The Maltese-flagged Alithini II arrived in Las Palmas in Gran Canaria on 28 Nov 2022, following an 11-day voyage from Lagos, Nigeria. According to Marine Traffic, a website that tracks shipping, the coast guard found three Nigerian stowaways when they arrived in Spain. All three men were hunkering on the oil tanker on top of the rudder under the giant hull. Their feet were literally hanging in the air just a few centimeters away from the surface level of the water.

As soon as the men were spotted, Spain’s Maritime Rescue Service picked them up. They transferred the men to two hospitals on the island of Gran Canaria. The Spanish government delegation immediately informed the Associated Press in the Canary Islands about the incident. Meanwhile, Salvamento Maritimo, the maritime rescue organization, posted a picture of the three men scrunching on top of the ship’s rudder. A stowaway who does not seek legal asylum must be returned to the vessel as per Spanish law, so a local government spokesperson said that they deported two of them to their original land while the health services were treating the third man for hypothermia and dehydration.


How the Stowaways Put Their Lives at Risk to Reach Spain

rudder of a large ship
Rudder of a ship.

On 17 Nov, the vessel started a 2,800 miles journey from Lagos, Nigeria. The three migrants clung to the rudder seeking cover inside a structure that looks like a box, putting their lives at risk and exposing themselves to rough seas, bad weather, and the ship’s fluctuating draft levels. These levels usually vary depending on the cargo’s weight.

The three Nigerian men arrived in Las Palmas in the 183-meter ship, navigating up the West African coast. The operator is responsible for taking care of the men by providing them temporary shelter until they are deported back to their origin and informing them of their legal rights to seek political asylum. However, he failed to do so, said Helena Maleno. Helena is the director of the migration NGO called “Walking Borders.”


Poor Economic Conditions Put Nigerians in Hapless Situations

Poverty in Nigeria
Poverty in Nigeria. Image credit: Anton_Ivanov/

Nigeria’s poverty has forced many natives to seek refuge in Europe and other developed countries, often in search of education and jobs. A high unemployment rate has plagued Nigeria, leading to failed infrastructure, inflation, insecurity, and inequality. An increase in the number of criminal gangs has led to frequent abductions, human trafficking, and insurgency.

Many Nigerian women who arrive in Europe with the help of smugglers are usually forced into prostitution, mainly in Italy and Germany. These women face discrimination, violence, racism, and exploitation frequently. On 29 July 2022, an Italian allegedly killed a Nigerian man which was classified as a hate crime. Many irregular migrants end up poorer and unhealthy after sailing for months and face smugglers or being deported back to their land. They also get trapped in Libya, in prisons, and detention centers, being robbed, beaten, and even murdered. They also end up in slave markets, where they get treated violently and sexually assaulted. On the other side, 15,000 Nigerians were granted permanent citizenship in Canada in 2021. However, that does not guarantee them jobs or safety. Many of them still face systemic racist attacks, false prosecution, and police brutality.


Recent History of Asylum Seekers and Increase in Migrant Arrivals in Europe Using Hazardous Migration Routes

Stowaways on rudder
Stowaways on rudder, October 2020. Image credit: Salvamento Marítimo

Rudders are substantial blade-like fins that are technically used for steering the ship. This is not the first case where marine officers have found stowaways on a ship’s rudder. In October 2020, four individuals stowed away on the rudder of an oil tanker leaving Lagos. They managed to survive for ten days before being found by Las Palmas police. In another instance, according to the Spanish newspaper El Pais, a mere 14-year-old kid survived a risky journey from Nigeria accompanying older migrants. Over the past two years, the Spanish coast guard has responded to six such disturbing instances.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported an increase in migrant arrivals as more than 165,000 irregular migrants entered Europe seeking asylum. More than 14,000 of them have arrived at Europe’s shores in overcrowded and rickety inflatable boats that are unfit for ocean travel. The UNHCR reported that 1,153 people died or went missing last year.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the COVID-19 pandemic and border closures have forced asylum seekers to travel to Europe via more hazardous routes. The recent efforts to control borders have significantly impeded access for migrants from third-world or war-torn countries.


Government’s Strategies to Address the Issue of Migrants

African migrants
African migrants. Image credit: Massimo Todaro/

To discuss a strategy for the Central Mediterranean, another important migration route to Europe, the ministers gathered in Brussels and devised action plans. Migrants who arrive by boat in the Southern Member States are to be distributed elsewhere in Europe. In accordance with the Solidarity Declaration signed by 18 Member States (+3 associated countries), a provision of an EU pact, a temporary and voluntary mechanism, has been agreed upon in June in order to bridge the future of migrant relocation.

Margaritis Schinas is the vice president of the European Commission and oversees coordinating the bloc’s Migration and Asylum Pact. According to Germany’s DW News, Margaritis told reporters that according to the migration policy, Europe will continue to be an asylum destination for those who face war, persecution, and dictatorship. He also said that the EU policies are working on reducing unsafe and irregular migration, curbing rescue challenges, and balancing responsibility.

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Picture Three Nigerian Men Made it Alive After Voyaging on a Rudder for 11 Days
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