Hanging Onto a Rudder to the Canary Islands

On Monday, the Spanish coastguard shared a picture on Twitter. It captured three Nigerian men sitting on the rudder of an oil tanker. Visibly shivering and shoeless, they appear to be in their twenties. A follow-up message indicated that the men were rescued as soon as the ship docked.

They are what you call stowaways — people who hide on a ship, airplane, etc., in order to travel without paying or being seen.

These stowaways, who had been traveling for 11 days on the ship’s rudder, were rescued with indications of dehydration and hypothermia. They were immediately taken to hospitals for medical assistance.

The cases of dehydration and hypothermia were not unexpected. These migrants had hung onto the narrow metallic rudder during the cruise, their feet dangling just a few feet above the Atlantic Ocean.

Though exceedingly perilous, stowaways have been discovered traveling on the rudders of commercial ships to the Canary Islands, which are located approximately 97 kilometers off the coast of Morocco. In 2020, Spanish authorities discovered six Nigerians traveling on the rudders of two tankers. One of them was a 14-year-old who described how the stowaways had to take turns sleeping because there was enough space for only one person to lie down at a time; how there was a fight and he was nearly thrown off the rudder; how they got cold and wet, and it would take hours to dry off; how his urine turned green after drinking seawater.

The migration route from West Africa to Spain’s Canary Islands is among the world’s most hazardous.

In September, a migration adviser to the Canary Islands said that about 1,000 refugees and migrants had died or gone missing while trying to get to the Spanish islands this year.

According to Spain’s Interior Ministry, as of November 15, almost 15,000 migrants and refugees had arrived in the Canary Islands by sea this year. This is interesting because it is 18% less than the same time last year.

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