'The price of freedom: I was a stowaway, trying to run from England to Canada. This is my story.'

It is not very easy for someone to get into Canada, US, Australia or New Zealand as a stowaway. Such people must overcome enormous obstacles while they are getting onto the ship. In some cases, they must be a little mad. By the way, you can see yourself in this.

It was Friday, January 8, 1999 in the city of Liverpool, England. In the early hours of the evening the city was flooded with lights. I and four young Romanian guys with knapsacks on our backs were making our way towards one of the container ports where next evening a cargo ship should sail for Canada and US. Our goal was to hide ourselves on the ship. But for this purpose we had to enter the port and remain hidden near the harbour, watching all activities and acquiring a schedule for the date and time of departure of the ship.

It did not take us long to find the wharf from which the ship should leave. Of course, five of us were too many. We realized that, but we were hoping somehow for luck. Avoiding speaking to one another in the subway, taking great pains not to draw the attention of people, we were traveling on the main road near the port. We were moving two by two with the remaining one behind. We were all about a hundred meters apart from each other, Thank God, we did not encounter any police cars.

The first and easier obstacle was overcome.

Lying in the darkness, in the park and drinking vodka, several hours passed. At midnight we were ready. Just about a hundred and fifty meters was the distance to the port fence which we had to pass. Noiselessly, like cats, we left the park, moving along the high fence…Here at the end of the port and at the end of the city there was no way we could be noticed. We reached the prepared opening and slipped in. In front of us we faced a high fence. Oh, we scaled it too. Now there was no turning back.

After a rest we investigated the situation and made our way back toward the port, squatting and creeping as spies. The port was flooded with light making it as bright as day. We had reached the containers which were bound for the U.S. and Canada. The ship was docked across the yard and we intended to insert ourselves in quickly. We run across the road and quickly jumped over the fence. The containers were piled there in groups. We concealed ourselves between two of the containers. Here we took a breather.

Already at the most dangerous place, we should run through an illuminated space about sixty-seventy meters long and reach the containers and hide between them. Then we could reach the ship.


There was no turning back.

Wasting no time, one by one we sped up. With knapsacks on our backs we run headlong as from death. There was a sudden cry but we the refugees didn't stop. We went on hiding between containers, barely breathe looking in all directions. There were about seventy centimeters of space between containers where we used to hide. The port became deafening at sound of the security guard's car. The security car was circle around.

We didn't think we will succeed. We all five run among containers. If we could we would shove ourselves into a mouse hole. After we were noticed at the harbor the most interesting part began; started the game of hide-and-seek, pursue, chase, just like in the movies, except this time the danger was real.

The adrenaline, the danger, became too much. We separated. Three of the guys run on one direction, I and the other Romanian, Kristi, run on other. But we never saw the other guys later on - obviously they dropped out of the game. What have happened to them I don't know - even today. I would be glad if they could have escaped from the police's clutch. But for Kristi and for me the chase was on. Running breathlessly among the containers, we both were fighting for time. We were taking care about the security guard and from the crane that was lifting the containers.
The most danger was when we had to run the distance from one pile to another. All night we run between containers. Dawn was near and with daylight the chase was more dangerous . The rain has started and we both were drenched not only from rain but from sweat as well. Luck was with us, and we found an empty container. Exhausted and wet, drained of energy, we fell into a dead sleep. Late in the afternoon we awakened by the crash of containers.

A journalist speaks to a Manus Island detainee through a smuggled phone. (Post continues after audio.)

Workers' voices were reaching us. The empty container was near the ship.

So the chase went on, and part two began. The game was going to get rough; but we both determined by any means to get on the ship. Our tenacity was unquenchable and if we had known what was about to happen to us, things may have ended up differently.

We were hiding between containers around the ship watching like cats for the proper occasion. Probably the police must have been forgotton about us, so our main worry was to concentrate on how to get aboard the ship. The workers were almost finished loading the freight on the boat, so at any time it might sail.

It was the time.

When we attempted to reach the stairs to the ship, bad luck struck, and like ghost one of the workers appeared. We were forced to hide again between containers. Perhaps about an hour later, at 7:00 pm Saturday January 9, we, the two tenacious Balkans decided to jump from the enormous crane into the ship. Again bad luck struck as we made the jump, and we both broke legs in the fall. Kristi broke his left leg, and I broke my both legs. I could not even get up. With clenched teeth, I was crawling to be with Kristi in the shadows, in the darkness. Even though ship members were touring the ship with flashlights to look for stowaways, we were able to escape discovery.


George in hospital, as reported in an Irish newspaper.

For two days and nights, the ship "Atlantic Compass" was sailing towards Canada. It wasn't easy for us. Especially with broken legs, clenching our teeth. We had patience. The pains were terrible, specially mine. I was lying on my back quietly moaning in pain. My right leg was in a critical state. But for Canada - the dream of a lot of people - it was worth it. I really thought then I am going to make it.

In the morning of Monday, January 11 we could not resist the pain anymore and Kristi was hopping around with only one leg until he found a member of the crew. I was then carried out by a huge red-bearded Swede.

The ship was near Ireland, and three hours later, I was air-lifted to Limerick Regional Hospital by the Shannon-based Marine Rescue Helicopter. Kristi whose leg was not critical remained on the board. After five days he arrived in Halifax.

Out of the five - we who originally attempted to leave Liverpool, England, only one reached Canada, but with a broken leg. So nothing is free in this life, even for stowaways- and of course, they pay a big price, sometimes even with their lives.

This is the price of freedom, of the risk. One may win but may lose also. But more important is the thrill of the risk itself. Only this way a man may feel he is living, he is true and utterly alive.

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