Three men survive 11-day voyage from Nigeria to Spain on helm of ship

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Three men have survived an 11-day journey perched precariously atop the rudder of a tanker en route from Nigeria to Spain’s Canary Islands, the Spanish coastguard said on Monday, as Europe hits its highest ever of irregular migration in five years.

The stowaways, straddling a narrow strip of metal and exposed to the elements, traveled on the Maltese-flagged Alithini II, which left Lagos on November 17, according to the ship tracking site. Marine traffic. The tanker arrived Monday evening in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria – one of Spain’s Canary Islands, located off the coast of North Africa. The ports are nearly 3,000 miles apart.

In a picture share Per the Spanish Coastguard on Twitter, the three men sit on the ship’s rudder tape sticking out of the water, their backs arched against the ship’s hull. A Coastguard rescue boat picked up the men and brought them to the port of Las Palmas for treatment by health services, the Coastguard tweeted.

The survivors came from Nigeria, the Spanish government delegation to the Canary Islands told the Associated Press. One of them was still hospitalized on Tuesday.

“The odyssey of survival is far beyond fiction”, Txema Santana, migration advisor to the authorities of the Canary Islands, wrote on Twitter. “It’s not the first and it won’t be the last. Stowaways don’t always have the same luck.

The bailout comes amid tensions within the European Union over migration policy, as countries in southern Europe — France and Italy in particular — are arguing over who should accommodate the growing number of migrants arriving by sea.

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More than 165,000 irregular migrants, many seeking asylum, have arrived in Europe this year, the highest number since 2017, when 187,499 were registered, according to the International Organization for Migration.

The journey of the three stowaways is an aberration in recent migration patterns to Europe. The bloc has seen an increase in arrivals over the past month, said Charlotte Slente, general secretary of the Danish Refugee Council, an aid agency that works in dozens of countries. But recently most asylum seekers have arrived overland, crossing the Balkans and moving west through Europe.

Nearly 30,000 migrants arrived in Spain in 2022, a decrease compared to recent years, according to Data UNHCR, the UN refugee agency. More than 14,000 of them landed on the coasts of the Canary Islands, often on crowded, rickety boats, many of which are inflatable and unsuitable for sea travel. The crossing is dangerous – 1,153 people died or suffered disappeared along the way to the Canary Islands last year, UNHCR said.

“In general, we have seen migrants and refugees continue to resort to perilous sea and land journeys, reflecting the desperation and vulnerabilities they may face, as well as the lack of sufficient and safer alternative routes,” said UNHCR spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo. in an email on Tuesday. “These include stowing away in airless ships or containers, and going to sea in leaky boats, among others.”

It is rare, but not unprecedented, for asylum seekers to stow away on merchant ships. The Spanish coastguard has responded to six similar cases in the past two years, Sofía Hernández, head of the rescue services coordination center in Las Palmas, told AP. “It’s very dangerous,” she said of the trip aboard the ship’s helm. A 14-year-old, in the company of older migrants, made the journey from Nigeria atop a rudder in 2020, according to Spanish newspaper El Pais reported.

The coronavirus pandemic and resulting border closures have prompted asylum seekers and migrants to take more dangerous routes from Africa to Europe, often with the help of smugglers, according to UNHCR.

“There has been a lot of effort in recent years to really control the borders, which has significantly impeded access for people in need of protection and asylum,” said Slente, adding that his organization has observed a number growing number of cases where European border authorities are pushing asylum seekers back to the countries they came from.

Nearly 2,000 people have lost their lives this year on sea routes in the Mediterranean and northwest Africa as they try to reach Europe, Mr Mantoo said.

“What is needed are better coordinated and state-led search and rescue efforts, predictable disembarkations in places of safety, and expedited access to screening and asylum procedures to identify those who may have need international protection, and return – in safety and with dignity – those who do not,” said Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, in a statement ahead of a meeting of ministers of inside the EU last week.

Ministers met in Brussels to discuss a action plan for the central Mediterranean, another major migratory route to Europe. Part of this plan is to implement the voluntary “Declaration of Solidarity” agreed in June regarding migrants arriving by sea in southern member states, spreading them elsewhere in Europe.

“We cannot continue to work tackling one crisis at a time or one ship at a time,” Margaritis Schinas, European Commission vice-president in charge of coordinating the EU’s migration and asylum pact, told reporters. block. according to the German newspaper DW News.

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