Stowaways Hiding on Ship’s Rudder: a Very Dangerous Practice


Raphaël Cantin, Journalist, Editor

It has lately been discovered that stowaways hide on ship’s rudders, the part of the ship used for steering, to escape their country.

During the month of November, three Nigerian stowaways were found on the rudder of Alithini II, an 183 meters long vessel. When they arrived at their destination, the Canary Islands, after 11 days at sea, the refugees suffered from hypothermia and were completely dehydrated. The three of them were taken to the hospital.

The rudder of cargo boats is big enough to have a few people on it. Therefore, some people try to escape their country illegally by travelling on it. Of course, this journey is unsafe, but it is the best option for many refugees and migrants.

The meteorological conditions, which can get very violent, make it dangerous. The rudder is completely uncovered, making it one of the most unsafe places to hide. “We are talking about several meters difference. This part could have been perfectly submerged in the water,” said Sofia Hernandez, who heads the service’s coordination center in Las Palmas.

During the last few years, thousands of stowaways, mostly from Africa, have tried travelling illegally on ship rudders. A few solutions have been proposed, but the best ones remain to block the rudder’s access and inspect it each time before sailing.

In December 2020, a 14 years old Nigerian also survived this experience.

In cases like these, the person who is responsible for bringing back the stowaways to their native country is the owner of the ship.