Three African stowaways who were pictured perched on a ship’s rudder at the end of their 11-day journey from Nigeria to the Canary Islands are seeking asylum in Spain, officials said Wednesday.
Walking Borders, a human rights organization, demanded that the Madrid government intervene to prevent the men from being returned to Nigeria and to evaluate their cases individually.
The identities and motivations of the asylum seekers for embarking on the perilous journey atop the rudder of the Maltese-flagged oil tanker Alithini II have not been revealed.
“The conditions of the journey are already an indication that something very serious may be behind it because the photos are incredible,” Walking Borders chief Helena Maleno told Reuters.
“We have never seen conditions like this where they have arrived alive.”
“These people have to be in a state of shock. They need a couple of days to recover and from there they can explain what they were running from to have made that decision,” Maleno added.
Unless stowaways seek asylum or are minors, a ship owner or agent is responsible for returning them to their point of origin, according to Spanish law.
According to the wire service, two of the three men were initially returned to the Alithini II with the intent of deporting them. According to a local government official, the third man was still in a hospital on Gran Canaria, suffering from hypothermia and dehydration.
However, a spokesperson for the Spanish delegation in the Canaries stated that the ship was free to depart without the men because they had requested to stay.
Maleno insisted that the men be informed of their right to seek political asylum and questioned before being returned to the ship.
Walking Borders also urged officials to place the men in the government’s migrant humanitarian program so they could recover from their ordeal.
The Canary Islands’ representative for the Spanish government did not immediately respond to a question about whether the migrants should have been informed of their rights.
The men were rescued by a coast guard vessel around 7 p.m., according to officials. Monday, local time.
The Spanish-owned islands are a popular but dangerous transit point for African migrants attempting to reach Europe.
According to the International Organization for Migration, 2,976 migrants have died or gone missing while attempting to cross from Africa to the archipelago by sea since 2014.
According to the tracking website Marine Traffic, the Alithini II traveled 2,000 miles from Lagos to the islands off the coast of Northwest Africa.
The tanker is owned by Gardenia Shiptrade SA and is managed by Athens-based Astra Ship Management, the outlet reported, citing the shipping database Equasis.