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4 men survive 14-day journey on ship’s rudder in Atlantic Ocean

August 2, 2023
Nigerians stowaway recue on ship

On their tenth day at sea, four Nigerian stowaways embarked on a perilous journey across the Atlantic Ocean in a cramped space above the rudder of a cargo ship. Unfortunately, their meager supply of food and drink ran out, leaving them desperate to survive. Struggling for four more days, they resorted to drinking sea water from just meters below their precarious hiding spot. Their incredible, life-threatening voyage spanned approximately 5,600 kilometers (3,500 miles) and underscored the extreme risks some migrants are willing to take for the hope of a better life.

Eventually, Brazilian federal police came to their rescue when the ship reached the port of Vitoria in southeastern Brazil. Despite the relief of being saved, the stowaways were shocked to learn they had arrived on the opposite side of the Atlantic, in Brazil, instead of their intended destination in Europe. Two of the men returned to Nigeria upon their request, while the others, Thankgod Opemipo Matthew Yeye and Roman Ebimene Friday, applied for asylum in Brazil.

During an interview at a church shelter in Sao Paulo, Friday and Yeye shared their motives for leaving Nigeria. They cited economic hardship, political instability, and rampant crime, which left them with little choice but to abandon their homeland. Nigeria, being Africa’s most populous country, suffers from long-standing issues of violence, poverty, and kidnappings.

Friday, who had attempted to flee Nigeria by ship once before but was caught by authorities, recounted how he began his journey to Brazil. A fisherman friend had rowed him up to the stern of the Liberian-flagged Ken Wave, docked in Lagos, where he discovered three other men already waiting for the ship to set sail. He felt terrified and uncertain about his fate, fearing that these strangers might throw him overboard at any moment.

Once the ship was underway, the four stowaways had to avoid detection by the crew, fearing a potentially fatal outcome. They resorted to silence and hiding, even though sleep was scarce and dangerous due to the cramped conditions and the noise of the ship’s engine.

Father Paolo Parise, a priest at the Sao Paulo shelter, commented on the extreme nature of their journey. He had encountered other cases of stowaways, but none as dangerous as this one. He emphasized that such extreme actions serve as a testament to the lengths people are willing to go to seek a new beginning, stating that people can engage in unimaginable and deeply perilous acts in pursuit of a better life.

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