The three stowaway migrants had to survive for 11 days at sea before being rescued by the Spanish coast guard on November 28, 2022 | Photo: Salvamento Maritimo/Handout via REUTERS
The three stowaway migrants had to survive for 11 days at sea before being rescued by the Spanish coast guard on November 28, 2022 | Photo: Salvamento Maritimo/Handout via REUTERS

One of the three Nigerian men who stowed away on an oil tanker’s rudder from Nigeria to the Canary Islands talks to the Spanish press about his journey and reasons for fleeing.

Henry A. is 42 years old. He told the Spanish news agency EFE that he comes from the Biafra region of Nigeria. After years of violence and poverty in his region, Henry explained he felt his only option was to escape to Europe to try and make a better life.

This desperation is what led Henry A. to beg a fisherman in Lagos port to ferry him out to an oil tanker at anchor just off land, so that he could climb aboard its rudder. The ship turned out to be the Alithini II and was in fact headed for the Canary Islands.

But, when Henry climbed on to the rudder, he said he didn’t even know where the ship was headed and he didn't really care, all he knew was he wanted to leave Nigeria. In fact, this was Henry’s second attempt to climb aboard a ship’s rudder and stowaway, he said in his interview with EFE.

A family and five siblings depend on him

Talking via a translator, Henry A. tells EFE that he is married with one son and has five siblings who depend on him. In the photo of the three men looking tiny compared to the enormity of the rudder and the ship all around them, Henry is on the left of the image, he is wearing a white and gray hat on his head which he still has with him.

His exhaustion in the photo is "palpable" comments EFE. Soon after he and the other two men were found on the rudder they were taken to hospital, the effects of around 11 days with very little water took its toll on their bodies. The coast guard said at the time that the men were treated for dehydration and hypothermia.

Henry A. tells EFE that the last time he tried to stow away on an oil tanker was in October 2020. That time he climbed on the rudder of a Norwegian tanker, the Champion Pula, along with three other men. They were discovered during a stopover in Las Palmas, and port authorities ordered they be taken aboard the tanker instead of permitting they remain in Spain, according to an article on the platform Gard. On October 17, the ship arrived in Bergen, Norway, where the men were disembarked, according to media reports. They sought asylum in Norway, but Henry A. was deported back to Nigeria in January.

Fleeing violence, hunger and terrorism

According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, 295,000 Nigerians have fled to neighboring nations because of situations like the one Henry says he experienced in Biafra. Extreme hunger, terrorism and violence. Another two million have been internally displaced within Nigeria.

"I’ve seen people die" Henry A told EFE. "That's why I decided to leave, because I wanted to survive." Henry A. underlines that he has never done anything wrong, "I’m not a thief," he says. Henry A. has now applied to Spain for international protection on the grounds of circumstances of special vulnerabilitiy.

Henry A. has told the authorities and everyone else that he didn’t know the other two men who traveled with him on the rudder, in a position where you couldn’t lie down, or even sit up straight. He says the two younger men saw what he was doing and decided to join him on the rudder.

They were united by an "instinct to survive" reports EFE. However, soon after they began their journey, a survival bag they had hiding in the boat fell into the sea. In the bag were some water bottles and a hammer in case the seas became rough and they needed to alert the crew to their presence on the rudder.

11 days with very little water

With the bag gone, there was very little water for them, but the fisherman had left and they felt they had no other option but to try and hide in a hollow they had found and hope for the best. Henry comments, "No one could rescue us anymore."

By the second day, the group were already finding it hard without water, reports EFE, but Henry A explained that some of their thirst could be quenched by wetting their lips with seawater without actually drinking it. The high salt content would make them sick, but in the end they had to drink some, he says.

The group did have a little food but it ended up making them thirstier, says Henry A. "We were all three exhausted. On the second day I was about to give up. For my two companions, it was the first time they had traveled this way and they didn’t know how to survive," recounts Henry A.

They had little light in the hole they had found by the rudder, and no watch, so they had no real idea how much time was passing or what might be happening outside, reports EFE. They knew that if they tried to peek out, they could risk falling into the ocean. It was also difficult to sleep on board, as you had to remain alert enough to not fall. The noise of the engine and the waves also kept them awake and constantly alert to the highly dangerous situation in which they found themselves.

'We spent the day praying'

Henry A. explains that during the more than 250 hours, or 11 days at sea, the group prayed. "We spent the day praying. We didn’t know where the ship was going, we just prayed it would stop." Henry A. believes their prayers were answered and that God came to their rescue.

On the 11th day, they felt the ship’s engine slow down and then come to a stop. EFE reports that the group breathed a huge sigh of relief. "Thank God, because we were about to give up. If I had continued sailing for a few more days, none of us would have survived," explains Henry A.

But even though they were now at anchor, the three men had to work out a way to get off the ship. They say they first tried to shout out to passing ships, until at last one of the port’s pilots spotted them and alerted the Spanish rescue authorities.

All three men have sought asylum in Spain. According to EFE, some of them have already received provisional documents as applicants for international protection. In six months, they should even be able to start work. Henry A. says he can’t wait for that day to arrive. Before leaving the interview, Henry A. takes one last look at the photo of him and the other two men on the rudder of the ship.

"I can hardly believe it," he says. "That photo makes me think that this life is not easy. Thank you, God, for having rescued me."

With EFE


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