BARCELONA: The three Nigerian stowaways found on an oil tanker's rudder after an 11-day ocean voyage from Lagos, Nigeria to Las Palmas in the Canary Islands are seeking asylum in Spain, a spokesperson for the Spanish government delegation in the Canaries said Wednesday.
The three men were picked up Monday by Spain's Maritime Rescue Service from the rudder of the Alithini II ship and transferred to two hospitals on the island of Gran Canaria with symptoms of dehydration and hypothermia. One of them remained hospitalized while the other two had been released, Spanish authorities said.
According to Spanish law, unless the stowaways seek asylum, or are minors, the ship owner or agent is responsible for returning them to their point of departure - in this case, Lagos. Given that they are now seeking asylum, the ship is free to leave port again.
The asylum seekers' identities and their motives for leaving Nigeria and hiding on the ship's rudder haven't been made public.
Earlier Wednesday, the human rights organization Walking Borders issued a statement demanding the Spanish government halt their potential return to Nigeria and calling for their cases to be assessed individually. The statement was issued following reports by Spanish authorities that two of the men were returned to the vessel for a potential return.
The non-governmental organization advocated that they be placed into the government's humanitarian program for migrants so they could recover from their voyage and possibly seek asylum.
Spain's Maritime Rescue Service shared a poignant photo that went viral this week showing the three men sitting precariously on top of the rudder with their feet only a few centimeters (inches) from the water's surface under the ship's massive hull.
According to the MarineTraffic tracking website, the Malta-flagged vessel left Lagos, Nigeria on Nov. 17 and arrived in Las Palmas on Monday. The distance between the ports is roughly 4,600 kilometers (2,800 miles).