Eleven days hidden on helm of oil tanker bound for the Canary Islands

by Lorraine Williamson
stowaways at helm of oil tanker
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LAS PALMAS DE GRAN CANARIA – The ‘chosen’ mode of transport shows how desperate three Africans must have been to reach European territory. The three stowaways spent eleven days on the helm of an oil tanker, just above the waves. 

The three men are believed to have climbed onto the helm of an oil tanker in Lagos port in Nigeria. Furthermore, they arrived in Las Palmas on Gran Canaria with only moderate dehydration symptoms. However, here they are hospitalised. 

On Tuesday, the three were rescued by the Salvamar Nunki in the harbour of the capital of Gran Canaria. They had been sighted in that dangerous area under the hull of the giant ship. There was barely a foot between their feet and the water as seen in the photo on this page shared on Twitter by the Coast Guard. 


Upon arrival, the men in the marina were immediately assisted by healthcare professionals from the medical services. Straight away, two of them were referred to Doctor Negrín Hospital. But the third man was admitted to Insular Hospital. A spokesperson for 112 of the Canary Islands has reported this to EFE. 

The three travelled clandestinely on the Maltese-flagged oil tanker Alithini II, which left Lagos on 17 November. This is evident from data collected about the route by the maritime tracking portals Vesselfinder.com and Marinetraffic.com. 

The place where the stowaways were found is a small space on the upper part of the rudder blade. This is on the outside of the hull, and below the stern. Furthermore, they sat in the open air for eleven days, at the mercy of the wind and waves. 

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Stowaways are sent back 

At the beginning of Tuesday evening, it was announced that two of the three men are already on the oil tanker that will soon travel back to Lagos. The third will be returned to the ship as soon as he is released from hospital. According to the chief of the Coastguard coordination centre, these people are not treated as migrants by law, but as stowaways, with a completely different regime. 

A source from the government delegation indicates that the stowaways are travelling back to Nigeria on the Alithini II ship. Albeit this time in better conditions. Moreover, on the ship and cared for by the crew. However, they are only allowed to leave the ship when they are back in Nigeria. 

Previous stowaways on oil tankers 

However, it is not the first time that stowaways have been discovered in such a dangerous part of the ship in the port of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. In November 2020 three other people were found in the rudder blade of the Ocean Princess II, an oil tanker from San Vincent de Grenadines. And three more a month earlier on the Champion Pula, a Norwegian oil tanker. Both ships also departed from Lagos, Nigeria. 

The number of African migrants arriving in the Canary Islands has recently risen sharply after controls on Mediterranean routes have been tightened. 

Also read: 83 migrants rescued at sea

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