Three African stowaways who were pictured perching 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.

Human rights group Walking Borders demanded the Madrid government intervene to prevent the men from being returned to Nigeria and urged it to assess their cases individually.

The asylum-seekers’ identities and their motives for embarking on the perilous journey atop the rudder of the Maltese-flagged oil tanker Alithini II haven’t been made public.

“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.

According to Spanish law, unless stowaways seek asylum or are minors, a ship owner or agent is responsible for returning them to their point of origin.

Two of the three men were initially returned to the Alithini II with the intention of deporting them, according to the wire service. The third man was still in a hospital on Gran Canaria suffering from hypothermia and dehydration, a local government official said.

However, a spokesperson for the Spanish delegation in the Canaries said the ship was free to leave without the men since they had requested to stay.

Alithini II,
The Alithini II, a Maltese-flagged oil tanker where the stowaways were discovered.
migrants taken from Alithini II
The Nigerian stowaways were taken from the oil tanker Alithini II.
Salvamento Maritimo/Cover Images

Maleno insisted the men should have been informed of their right to request political asylum and should have been questioned before being returned to the ship.

Walking Borders also urged authorities to place the men into the government’s humanitarian program for migrants so they could recover from their ordeal.

The Spanish government’s representative on the Canary Islands didn’t immediately respond to a query on whether the migrants should have been informed of their rights.

migrants on Alithini II
Migrants sit along the rudder of Alithini II where they were found alive after an 11-day journey.

Officials said the men were rescued by a coast guard vessel at about 7 p.m. local time Monday.

The Spanish-owned islands are a popular but dangerous gateway for African migrants trying to reach Europe.

Since 2014, 2,976 migrants have died or disappeared after trying to cross from Africa to the archipelago by sea, according to the International Organization for Migration.

The Alithini II, which left Lagos on Nov. 17, covered some 2,000 miles during its journey to the islands off northwest Africa, according to tracking website Marine Traffic.

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.

Astra Ship Management did not respond to calls from Reuters seeking comment.

With Post wires

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