Three stowaways, who were found on a ship’s rudder when it docked in the Spanish-owned Canary Islands after an 11-day voyage from Nigeria, could be returned to the West African nation, Reuters reported. The three stowaways were rescued on Monday after the fuel tanker arrived in the Canary Islands.
Per a police spokesman, Spanish law stipulates that a ship operator must return a stowaway to the port where it originally set sail if that individual fails to seek asylum. Two of the stowaways have since been taken back to ship with the purpose of returning them. A local government spokesperson also said that the third stowaway is still at a hospital receiving treatment for hypothermia and dehydration. The other two stowaways were also treated for the same medical conditions.
On Monday, the Spanish coast guard took to Twitter to share a photo of the three stowaways sitting on the rudder of the Althini II after they were found. The ship, which is 183 meters and sails under the flag of Malta, departed Lagos, Nigeria, for the 11-day journey on November 17.
A spokesperson for the Canary Islands police told the news outlet that the ship’s operator was responsible for the welfare of the stowaways as well as their deportation – which is supposed to be at the earliest possible time.
But Helena Maleno, who is the director of the migration non-governmental organization, Walking Borders, told Reuters that the least thing that should have been done was to notify the stowaways about their right to seek political asylum. Maleno also said that officials should have questioned them before taking them back to the ship.
“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 Maleno.
“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.”
The Canary Islands, which is owned by Spain, is a well-known destination for African migrants trying to make their way into Europe, CNN reported. And per data from the European nation, sea migration to the islands in the first five months of 2022 spiked by 51% as compared to 2021. The Red Cross also reports that in 2021, over 20,000 migrants made their way to the Canary Islands from the coastline of West Africa. The number of migrants who died during those voyages was over 1,100.
This also isn’t the first time stowaways have migrated to foreign soil while hidden around the rudder of a ship. In 2020, four Nigerian stowaways entered Las Palmas from Lagos by hiding in a section on top of a Norwegian oil tanker’s rudder, Norwegian media reported. That sea voyage also took 10 days.
In a 2020 interview with the Spanish newspaper El Pais, a 14-year-old Nigerian also said that for 15 days, he hid under similar circumstances on a ship that voyaged from Lagos to the Canary Islands. The Red Cross says that migration from West Africa is spurred by poverty, violent conflict, and the search for greener pastures.