Senegalese men rescued trying to sail to New York

David Usborne
Saturday 03 February 2007 01:00 GMT

Fourteen men who were trying to journey by a British-registered catamaran from Senegal in west Africa to New York, where they dreamed of finding jobs and new lives, have been rescued from an Atlantic storm after drifting for days with broken sails and a stalled engine.

US Coast Guard officials said the men set out on their voyage on the 50ft yacht, called L'Onde Marine (Ocean Wave) on 12 December. They had been drifting without power or sails for days when the boat was spotted last Sunday by a merchant container ship listing badly in 30ft waves .

The ship arrived at the port of Brooklyn on Wednesday and the men were taken into custody by US customs officials. They are being held at a detention centre in New Jersey and face almost certain deportation back to Senegal.

"I think they went on a whim," said Lucille Cirillo, a spokeswoman for the US Customs and Border Protection agency. "I don't think that they realised what kind of voyage they were taking."

Even if the men had managed a direct route to New York they faced a journey of 3,800 miles (6,115km) on the boat, which they are thought to have borrowed from a friend in the Senegalese capital, Dakar.

They were rescued by crew members of the Melbourne about 900 miles (1,448km) east of Cape Cod in Massachusetts. The conditions were too rough to lower boats and the men were hoisted on board by ropes.

The United States continues to be a magnet for desperate seafarers trying to reach its shores and remain illegally. However, such incidents are far more common in Florida with boats and makeshift rafts arriving from Haiti, Cuba and other Caribbean countries.

New York is rarely a first destination and there are few known cases of anyone trying to make it all the way from Africa.

"It would definitely be a dangerous undertaking," said David Bender, a spokesman for the Coast Guard.

The men, aged between 23 and 43, were apparently trying to eke out dwindling supplies of water and food when they were rescued. But they were in good physical shape. "We're actually quite surprised at how well they're doing," said Ms Cirillo of US Customs . "They were on that boat for more than a month. "

A few of the men had valid passports but most had no identity papers at all.

Recent months have seen a wave of Senegalese people setting out from the country's coast in search of better lives, but for the most part they head for the Canary Islands. Many are known to have lost their lives making even that much shorter journey.

Last month, the body of a man from Senegal was found in the wheel housing of a Delta Airlines jet arriving in Atlanta from Dakar.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in