They Crossed the Atlantic on Ship's Rudder

4 Nigerian men survived 14-day journey to arrive in Brazil, where 2 are now seeking asylum
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 2, 2023 7:27 AM CDT
They Crossed the Atlantic on Ship's Rudder
Nigerian migrants sit on the rudder of a ship that recently arrived in Brazil.   (YouTube/Reuters)

Four men spent 14 days clinging to the rudder of a ship as it carried them 3,500 miles across the Atlantic Ocean from Nigeria to Brazil. The remarkable journey began in late June, with the departure of a Liberian-flagged ship from Lagos. Roman Ebimene Friday, a 35-year-old from Nigeria's Bayelsa state, says a friend rowed him out to the ship's rudder, where he was surprised to find three other men waiting for the ship to depart. Friday had once before tried to flee Nigeria by ship, but he was arrested before making it out of the country, per Reuters. He had better luck this time. But the men expected the ship to carry them to Europe. Instead, it spent the next two weeks crossing the perilous south Atlantic, as the men tried to cling on, just feet away from the ocean waves.

They built a net around the rudder, then tied themselves to it. Still, sleep was "rare and risky," per Reuters. After 10 days, the group ran out of the food they'd stored in the small space above the rudder. The men said they survived another four days by drinking seawater before they were finally rescued by Brazilian federal police in the southeastern port of Vitória. "It was a terrible experience for me," 38-year-old Thankgod Opemipo Matthew Yeye tells Reuters from a São Paulo church shelter. "On board it is not easy. I was shaking, so scared. But I'm here." Friday, who initially feared the three strangers or the ship's crew would hurl him off the rudder, recalls seeing "big fish like whales and sharks" during the journey. "I was very happy when we got rescued," he says.

The two other men were returned to Nigeria at their request. But Yeye and Friday are seeking asylum in Brazil, citing economic hardship, political instability, and crime in Africa's most populous country. Yeye, a Pentecostal minister from Lagos state, says floods wiped out his peanut and palm oil farm, leaving him and his family homeless. He hopes they will be able to join him. Friday says he took the opportunity to flee Lagos on a foreign vessel, as others have done before him, not knowing or caring where it would take him, per CNN. "I pray the government of Brazil will have pity on me," he tells Reuters. The journey shows migrants are willing to do "unimaginable and deeply dangerous things" simply for the chance at a better life, says a priest at the shelter. (More migrants stories.)

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