February 25, 2024

A picture of the men on the ruder

Four desperate Nigerian migrants embarked on what they believed would be a journey to Europe, but their plans took a perilous turn when they ended up crossing the Atlantic Ocean and landing in Brazil after a harrowing 14-day voyage. Climbing into a tiny space above a cargo ship’s rudder, the stowaways braved a death-defying, 3,500-mile trip, enduring hunger and thirst as their supplies ran out on Day 10.

Thankgod Opemipo Matthew Yeye, 38, one of the migrants, described the experience as “terrible” and shared his fear during an interview at a shelter in Sao Paulo. The harrowing journey began on June 27 in Lagos, Nigeria, where the Liberian-flagged ship Ken Wave was docked.

Roman Ebimene Friday, 35, another migrant, was rowed to the ship’s stern by a fisherman friend, where he discovered three other men already hiding above the rudder. To avoid falling into the ocean during the perilous trip, the stowaways rigged up a net and tied themselves to it. However, they faced sleepless nights due to the cramped conditions and the noise from the ship’s engine.

The men’s anxiety was further compounded by the constant fear of being discovered by the ship’s crew. Brazilian maritime police eventually rescued them on July 10, after workers on a maintenance vessel spotted them in Vitoria harbor. Remarkably, they were in good health and not injured despite the challenging voyage.

However, their dream of reaching Europe was shattered when they learned they had arrived in South America instead. Seeking to escape Nigeria’s poor economy, political instability, and crime, the men had planned to find a better life in Europe. Thankgod Opemipo Matthew Yeye, a Pentecostal minister, left Nigeria after floods destroyed his peanut and palm oil farm in Lagos, rendering his family homeless.

He and Roman Ebimene Friday, who had been previously arrested in Nigeria for attempting to stow away on a different ship, are both seeking asylum in Brazil. Friday expressed his hope for mercy from the Brazilian government.

Two of the men voluntarily returned to Nigeria, marking the end of their tumultuous journey. The incident serves as a stark reminder of the dangers and desperation faced by migrants seeking a brighter future far from home.

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