They survived a total of 14 days, including four days by drinking the sea water crashing just metres below them, after running out of food, before being rescued by Brazilian federal police in the southeastern port of Vitoria.
“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.
Reuters reports that 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.
“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.
Yeye, a pentecostal minister from Lagos state, said his peanut and palm oil farm was destroyed by floods this year, leaving him and his family homeless.
He hopes they can now join him in Brazil.
Friday said his journey to Brazil began on June 27, when a fisherman friend rowed him up to the stern of the Liberian-flagged Ken Wave, docked in Lagos, and left him by the rudder.
To his surprise, he found three men already there, waiting for the ship to depart. Friday said he was terrified.
He had never met his new shipmates and feared they could toss him into the sea at any moment.
“Maybe if they catch you they will throw you in the water,” he said, adding: “So we taught ourselves never to make noise.”
Spending two weeks within spitting distance of the Atlantic Ocean was perilous.
To prevent themselves from falling into the water, Friday said the men rigged up a net around the rudder and tied themselves to it with a rope.
When he looked down, he said he could see “big fish like whales and sharks.”
Due to the cramped conditions and the noise of the engine, sleep was rare and risky.
“I was very happy when we got rescued,” he said.
Father Paolo Parise, a priest at the Sao Paulo shelter, said he had come across other cases of stowaways, but never one so dangerous.
Their journey paid testament to the lengths people will go to in search of a new start, he said.
“People do unimaginable and deeply dangerous things,” he observed.