Nigerian stowaways found at the helm of a ship in the Canary Islands

Other people were previously discovered clinging to the rudders as they risked their lives to reach the Spanish islands located in 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-like structure around the rudder, Hernández explained, but they are still vulnerable to bad weather and rough seas.

A ship’s fluctuating draft level, the vertical distance between the waterline and the bottom of the hull, is another danger to these stowaways. The levels vary according to the weight of the cargo on board.

“We are talking about several meters of difference. This part could have been perfectly submerged in water,” Hernández said.

In 2020, a 14-year-old Nigerian boy was interviewed by the Spanish newspaper El País after surviving two weeks at the helm of a ship. He too had left 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 these, the shipowner is responsible for taking the stowaways back to their starting point, according to the Spanish Government delegation on the islands.

Thousands of immigrants and refugees from North and West Africa have arrived in the Canary Islands irregularly in recent years. Most make the perilous crossing of the Atlantic in crowded boats after setting out from the coast of Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania and even Senegal.

More than 11,600 people have arrived on the Spanish islands by boat so far this year, according to figures published by the Spanish Ministry of the Interior.