Stowaways Found Lying Atop Rudder of MSC Containership After 2,700 NM Trip

stowaways on containership
Salvamento Maritmo recovered two young men perched on the top of the rudder (Canary Islands Police)

Published Jul 11, 2023 7:41 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Spanish Coast Guard and police in the Canary Islands found two stowaways perched on the top of the rudder of an MSC containership arriving from Africa. The two young men had been aboard the vessel for six days in a position where they were unable to stand up and had no shelter in an attempt to reach Europe.

The MSC Marta (72,000 dwt) arrived in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria on Monday, July 10, after a voyage of more than 2,700 nautical miles from West Africa. The vessel docked after 10:00 p.m. local time at the container terminal on its normal route in which the Canary Islands are an interim stop between Africa and Europe.

In a routine inspection, Salvamento Maritimo reports its patrol boat Nunki spotted the two individuals lying atop the 901-foot containership’s rudder on feet above the water. They launched a zodiac boat and were able to retrieve the two individuals who turned out to be young men from Nigeria age 18 and 22. The local police were on the dock to take custody of the men.


Two young men were lying on the top of the rudder for eight days and 2,700 nm (Canary Islands Police)


Interviewing the two, they determined they had climbed aboard the rudder on July 2 while the containership was in Lagos, Nigeria. The ship first traveled more than 100 nautical miles to Lome, Togo, where it was handling containers on July 3 and 4. It then sailed the 2,500 nautical miles to the Canary Islands with the two men on the rudder in the open ocean for six days. 

They were taken to the hospital and spent the night being checked out. This morning they were released and taken back to the MSC containership which is responsible under Spanish law for the removal of the illegal migrants and returning them to their home country. 

The men could have asked for asylum in Spain which would have permitted them to remain in the Canary Islands, but reports are that they have family in Italy and were likely trying to get asylum when the ship reaches Italy. The MSC Marta departed today with the two men bound for the port of Gioia Tauro, Italy, but there was no word if the men would seek asylum or remain aboard till the vessel reaches Nigeria.



The authorities might have a head start in looking for the stowaways. It is the second time in less than a month and the third time in less than a year that African stowaways have been founded perched on the top of the rudder when a ship arrived in the Canary Islands. 

On June 17, two young men age 18 and 22, from Ivory Coast were found on another MSC containership. They had also been hiding aboard the ship, likely in the steering gear room, for six days for the trip from Ivory Coast to the Canary Islands. In a similar set of circumstances, they were taken ashore, given a medical check, and when they did not request asylum were placed aboard the MSC containership to be returned to Africa.

In November 2022, three Africans were found on the top of the rudder of a tanker. They had also been aboard for 11 days for the 2,700-mile trip from Lagos to the Canary Islands.