It’s a story that would send minds racing, an agonising tale that would leave everyone contemplating what it feels like to be seconds away from death.
A man has told The Daily Sun how his brother perished in the Mediterranean Sea, as two of them journeyed illegally to Europe in a rickety boat.
The two brothers from Edo State – Monday and Osas Amanmien – had embarked on the deadly voyage across the angry Mediterranean Sea, intent on hitting Italy where they hoped to make a better living. But the trip turned sour midway, leaving Monday dead. He drowned in the sea following a boat wreck.
Although Osas miraculously survived the disaster, he had to endure one hellish hour, hopelessly floating on an empty keg and being brutally buffeted by the bullish, restless waves. And now, he lives with the eternal trauma of the last words of his brother. Monday had said, in a desperate tone: “My keg dey leak ooo,” before he finally went down.
Osas says his brother drowned so that he might live. He recalled that when it became obvious that the boat was destined to go down, Monday summoned courage and seized two empty water kegs beside him. One was good, the other was bad. He gave his younger one the better keg so that he would be afloat and live while he struggled with the bad keg. He eventually drowned, Osas said. Not even his dead body was retrieved.
Both brothers, who hailed from Benin, had joined the bandwagon of African migrants desperately trooping to Europe to escape the harsh economic realities at home.
Monday and Osas had left Benin one morning, and embarked on the trip to Europe. The two brothers, alongside others, were on the road. They travelled through Sokoto up to Niamey, Agades and Duruku in Niger Republic, enduring the grilling, sahel weather. Finally they landed in Tripoli, the Libyan capital. And from there, they boarded a dingy, overloaded speedboat headed for Italy. But they had the expansive Mediterranean Sea to contend with.
The reporter learnt that before the brothers launched out on the sea journey, they were for weeks holed up in a Libyan ghetto, a camp for travellers. They could not set sail for Italy because they were told that the sea was rough, a development that could make their boat to capsize.
All the same, all the travellers in the camp, including Osas and Monday, were excited. They were further delighted when they were told by their agents that they could embark on the journey and that the sea was no longer furious.
On the said day, Monday and Osas were to be ferried by agents who operated the ‘Ghana Poli Two.’ The migrants paid their agents several thousands of Libyan Dinars, which, when converted, was about N170, 000 as their transport fare to Italy. As usual, hundreds of migrants fleeing Africa were in the number. They boarded the large boat and said fervent prayers for safety at sea.
Everything was calm as they set sail. With Europe on their minds, everyone was confident of the good life that lay ahead. Everyone began growing in confidence. Then midway into the journey, every prediction crumbled like a pack of cards. Soon, the unthinkable happened just as they were about to celebrate their successful entry into Italian waters. The boat developed a fault. Then a big crack materialised right at a very important part of the boat.
It began to let in water, first in small quantities and then in very massive proportions. Before the jubilant migrants could realise what was amiss, sea water had penetrated and overpowered the hapless craft. Then it began to sink. Fear gripped everyone. Danger and death stared everyone in the face as the end drew near.
At that point, everyone burst out into prayers. Everyone began to pray in various tongues. But that seemed useless. With the waves lashing unrelentingly at the sinking boat, death and disaster appeared a touching distance away. Confusion and uncertainty set in. In no time, the water overshadowed the boat, leaving the migrants at the mercy of the deep, blue sea.
There was no rescue team in sight. To make matter worse, Osas and Monday could not swim. Those that could swim were able to suspend and sustain themselves on the water for close to an hour before help finally came.
Monday had quickly grabbed two empty jerry cans he found beside him. He handed one to Osas and held one to serve as lifeline. But unfortunately, the one that Monday had began to let in water.
The reporter was told that Monday deliberately held on to the bad one at his own risk; he wanted his younger brother saved. But in a matter of minutes, the brave Monday went down the sea and drowned. His terrified brother cried out to his brother. But he was gone, never to be seen again.
Many others in the boat also suffered the same fate with Monday. For those who could swim at least, Providence smiled on them when the Italian rescue team showed up and came to their rescue. They were taken to a refugee camp near Napoli in Italy.
Recalling the ugly tale from Italy recently, Osas told the reporter: “That was actually the first time my late brother and I travelled on water. It was about 8:00am Libyan time. We were sailing to Italy on the Mediterranean Sea. The weather was bright and everything appeared very much okay. Though we were somehow afraid, there were no signs of danger before us.
“The boat was moving very fast. Our minds were actually filled with various thoughts. Some were happy and singing, while others were calm. My brother and I belonged to the group that was calm. But I had this strange feeling which l could not tell.
“The sea was blue and nothing was before and behind us. The only thing I could see was a point that looked like where the sky was touching the sea. Anytime I looked at the sea, I was always scared, but my brother sensed it and he tried to calm me.
“Sitting next to me, his presence was like a pillar of strength to me. Anytime l looked at his face, it gave me the hope that I was not alone in the journey. Later on, the weather changed and became very cold. I quietly asked myself what pushed me to embark on such journey. At that point, so many other thoughts began racing through my mind.
“Then suddenly, someone shouted: “Hey! We are already in Italian territory!” We all started shouting and thanking God. We had barely finished that before the unexpected began to happen.
“The boat was carrying many passengers. It suddenly stopped on its own. We tried all we could to re-start it to no avail. At that point, my elder brother drew my attention to a spot where the boat was leaking and from where water had started coming in. We began to pray in loud voices, but the water was now rushing in with full force. We tried to block the leakage with some plastics materials we found, but the more we did, the more damage it seemed we were doing to the boat.
“Not too long after, I saw our boat going down. I saw death coming closer and closer. My strength was gone. Then the worst happened; the boat finally went down and left us at sea. ‘Where is my brother?’ I screamed with the little strength left in me. And gently, he touched me from behind and said ‘no fear, I dey here.
“He handed over an empty keg to me and told me to hold firmly to it, that it would prevent me from sinking. I did as he instructed me. He was also holding firmly to one. After a while, the whole place was calm and quiet. It was just few of us left on top of the water. Many of the passengers had drowned. With a gentle voice, my elder brother called me and said, “my gallon dey leak ooo.” He meant that water was coming into the keg. At the time he informed me, he was already going down.
“But he assured me that nothing would happen to me, that I should hold on to my keg. I looked at him with tears in my eyes; his keg was already filled with water. He struggled to remain on the sea, but he had no strength left any longer. The third time I looked out for him, he was no longer there.
“He was nowhere to be found. He intentionally gave me the good keg and took the bad one so that l wouldn’t get drowned. It was after an hour later that a rescue team came and picked the rest of us left into its boat and we were moved to somewhere around Napoli, Italy. That was how my brother saved me with his life.
“But was the journey really worth it? Think twice before embarking on this type of journey, because you might not be as lucky as I was.”
Despite the several reports of migrants perishing at sea every now and then, a large numbers of Nigerians and other Africans still embark on the very deadly journey, going through the same sea to Europe to seek a better living.
The road and means of getting to their destination seem not to matter to them; they are just desperate and are ready to throw everything into it. Some have actually survived the sea to land in Europe of their dream. But, regrettably, many, like Monday, could not make it.
Every now and then, countless Nigerians, with or without any certificate, dare the sand and the sea on their way to Europe.
It was gathered that while some go through Morocco to Spain, the majority prefer the Libyan route leading to Italy. The latter route is said to be faster and cheaper for travellers.
Imasuen Anderson, who was also lucky to have arrived Italy through the Mediterranean Sea, in a telephone interview with Daily Sun, said he had to travel abroad, having searched for a job with his Ordinary National Diploma (OND) certificate without success.
He recalled that the sea was very peaceful and calm the day he traversed it in the middle of 2015. For him, the journey was very smooth. He said he spent 10 hours on the sea travelling between Libya and Italy.
Hear him: “The amount paid for the journey depends on the agent that is going to ferry one across the sea. Some do charge 1, 000, 1, 200 or 1, 500 Dinars (which is between N120, 000 and N200, 000, depending on the exchange rate). The number of hours one spends at sea depends on the camp that one chooses.
“If one uses Ghana Poli One, it will take up to 10 or 12 hours before the passengers will get to ltaly. The Ghana Poli Two will take eight to 10 hours while Ghana Poli Three takes six to eight hours. Zuara is the fastest; it takes between four and six hours.
“Once the boat is close to the Italian territory, the leader of the team will call for Italian rescue team that will assist the passengers to settle down in their camps.
“The number of people the boat can transport depends on the size of the boat. Some can take up to 100 people; others, between 130 and 150 at most. The double-Ddecker or double-layer boat can take 200 passengers and above.
“The boys are usually more in number on any boat. The girls are seated at the middle while the boys sit close to the edge to protect the girls in the middle. The operators arrange things in such a way that the girls will not see the sea and the wave because they will be scared.
“Among the passengers, there must be courageous people of faith to stabilise others. The risk involved rises when the sea is not calm and when the weather is not clear. That is when the boat normally capsizes. Overloading of the boat can also cause an accident.
“There is always too much cold but people at the centre of the boat would not feel it much because the people standing or sitting on the edge will cover them. Above everything, every aspect of the journey is by the grace of God,” he said.