Stowaways survive 14 days at sea clinging to a ship’s rudder

Imagine being on a ship for two weeks, with no food, no water, no shelter, and no idea where you are going. Imagine being exposed to the elements, the waves, and the marine life. Imagine being afraid of being caught and thrown overboard. That’s what four Nigerian stowaways experienced when they hid on the rudder of a cargo ship, hoping to reach Europe.

A perilous journey

The stowaways boarded the Liberian-flagged Ken Wave ship in Lagos on June 27, 2023, and were rescued by Brazilian federal police in the port of Vitoria, near Rio de Janeiro, on July 11, 2023. They had traveled 3,500 miles across the Atlantic Ocean, unaware of their destination.

The stowaways had sneaked onto the ship’s rudder area, a cramped space above the propeller, where they tied themselves to a net to prevent falling into the water. They had brought some food and water with them, but it ran out on the 10th day of their journey. They had to resort to drinking seawater and their own urine to survive.

They also had to endure the fear of being detected by the ship’s crew, who could have thrown them into the sea if they found them. They also had to face the sight of whales and sharks swimming below them when they looked down at the ocean.

A surprising outcome

The stowaways had hoped to reach Europe, where they thought they could find a better life. They had fled Nigeria because of its economic, political, and social problems. However, they were shocked when they learned that they had arrived in Brazil instead.

“I thought that I was going to Europe and then all of a sudden I found myself, I am in Brazil,” Roman Ebimene Friday, one of the stowaways, told Reuters. “So when the federal police came, I don’t even know where I was… So the federal police came and they asked ‘Do you know where you are?’ I said no. I was the person that was sitting on the block of the vessel … and they said, ‘This is Brazil,’” Friday said in an interview. “That was the first thing they said, ‘This is Brazil.’ I said, ‘Wow, this is Brazil.’ I made it to Brazil. I am happy.”

Friday and another stowaway, Thankgod Opemipo Matthew Yeye, decided to stay in Brazil and apply for asylum. The other two men decided to go back to Nigeria.

A remarkable survival story

The stowaways’ story is one of remarkable survival and resilience. They endured harsh conditions and risks for two weeks, clinging to a ship’s rudder. They survived by drinking seawater and their own urine. They faced fear and uncertainty every day. They reached a different continent than they expected.

Their story also raises questions about the global issues that drive people to take such desperate measures. Why did they leave Nigeria? What were they looking for in Europe? What are their prospects in Brazil? How can we address the root causes of migration and displacement?

The stowaways’ story is not only a human interest story, but also a story that challenges us to think about our interconnected world and our shared humanity.

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