NGO asks Spain to halt possible return of Nigerian stowaways


BARCELONA – A human rights organization asked the Spanish government on Wednesday to halt the potential return to Nigeria of three men found traveling on an oil tanker’s rudder after an 11-day ocean voyage from Lagos, Nigeria to Las Palmas in the Canary Islands.

The stowaways of Nigerian nationality were picked up Monday by Spain’s Maritime Rescue Service from the rudder of the Alithini II ship and transferred to two hospitals on the island of Gran Canaria with symptoms of dehydration and hypothermia. One of them remains hospitalized while the other two have been returned to the Malta-flagged vessel, a spokesperson for the Spanish government delegation in the Canary Islands told the Associated Press.

According to Spanish law, unless the stowaways seek asylum, or are minors, the ship owner is responsible for returning them to their point of departure – in this case, Lagos. The men’s identities and their motives for hiding on the ship’s rudder haven’t been made public. It is also unclear if they have had access to a lawyer or asylum procedures.

“We want to express our concern about what happened, particularly in the face of a possible scenario of hasty repatriations,” the non-governmental organization Walking Borders said in a statement issued Wednesday. The migrants’ rights group called for their cases to be assessed individually and for the Spanish government to place them in its humanitarian program for migrants so they can recover from their voyage and potentially seek asylum.

Spain’s Maritime Rescue Service shared a poignant photo that went viral Tuesday showing the three men sitting precariously on top of the rudder with their feet only a few centimeters (inches) from the water under the ship’s massive hull.

According to the MarineTraffic tracking website, the Malta-flagged vessel left Lagos, Nigeria on Nov. 17 and arrived in Las Palmas on Monday. The distance between the ports is roughly 4,600 kilometers (2,800 miles).

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