On their tenth day at sea, the four Nigerian stowaways crossing the Atlantic in a tiny space above the rudder of a cargo ship ran out of food and drink.
They survived another four days, according to their account, by drinking the sea water crashing just meters below them, before being rescued by Brazilian federal police in the southeastern port of Vitoria.
Their remarkable, death-defying journey across some 5,600 kilometers (3,500 miles) of ocean underlines the risks some migrants are prepared to take for a shot at a better life.
“It was a terrible experience for me,” said 38-year-old Thankgod Opemipo Matthew Yeye, one of the four Nigerians, in an interview at a Sao Paulo church shelter. “On board it is not easy. I was shaking, so scared. But I’m here.”
Their relief at being rescued soon gave way to surprise.
The four men said they had hoped to reach Europe and were shocked to learn they had in fact landed on the other side of the Atlantic, in Brazil. Two of the men have since been returned to Nigeria upon their request, while Yeye and Roman Ebimene Friday, a 35-year-old from Bayelsa state, have applied for asylum in Brazil.
“I pray the government of Brazil will have pity on me,” said Friday, who had already attempted to flee Nigeria by ship once before but was arrested by authorities there.
Both men said economic hardship, political instability and crime had left them with little option but to abandon their native Nigeria. Africa’s most populous country has longstanding issues of violence and poverty, and kidnappings are endemic.