Spain: Stowaways traveled 11 days at the helm of a ship

BARCELONA—

Three stowaways were found at the helm of a ship in the Canary Islands after an 11-day voyage at sea from Nigeria, the Spanish Maritime Salvage service reported.

The men, who were found on the oil tanker Alithini II in the Spanish port of Las Palmas on Monday, showed symptoms of dehydration and hypothermia and were taken to hospitals on the island for medical attention, Salvamento Marítimo said.

The survivors were from Nigeria, the Spanish government delegation in the Canaries told The Associated Press. One of them was still hospitalized on Tuesday.

The agency released a photo of the three men sitting at the helm under the massive hull of the ship with their feet inches above the water.

The Maltese-flagged ship left Lagos, Nigeria, on November 17 and arrived in Las Palmas on Monday, according to the ship-monitoring website MarineTraffic. The distance is approximately 4,600 kilometers (2,800 miles).

Other people were previously discovered clinging to the rudders as they risked their lives to reach the Spanish islands off northwest Africa. Maritime Rescue has dealt with six similar cases in the last two years, according to Sofía Hernández, who heads the coordination center for the service in Las Palmas.

Migrants can seek refuge inside the box-shaped structure that surrounds the rudder, Hernández explained, but they remain vulnerable to bad weather and rough seas. «It’s very dangerous,» he told the AP.

The fluctuation of a ship’s draft level—the vertical distance between the waterline and the bottom of the hull—is another danger to these stowaways. The levels vary depending on the weight of the cargo on board.

“We are talking about the fact that (there may be) several meters of difference. That part could perfectly well be completely submerged in the water,” Hernández commented.

In 2020, a 14-year-old Nigerian boy was interviewed by the Spanish newspaper El País after surviving a two-week voyage at the helm of a ship. He too had sailed from Lagos.

“It is not the first time nor will it be the last,” tweeted Txema Santana, a journalist and migration adviser for the regional government of the Canary Islands.

In cases like this, the shipowner is generally responsible for returning the stowaways to their point of departure, according to the Spanish government delegation that was in the Canary Islands.

Thousands of migrants and refugees from North and West Africa have sporadically arrived in the Canary Islands in recent years. Most begin the dangerous crossing of the Atlantic in overloaded ships that leave from the coast of Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania and even Senegal.

More than 11,600 people have arrived on the Spanish islands this year, according to figures from the Spanish Ministry of the Interior.