We highlight some recent cases where stowaways have been found on board which provide valuable lessons and stress the importance of having proper on board precautions. As part of BSafe, we will aim to publish regular reports on stowaway incidents in order to share the lessons learned
The convention on facilitation of international maritime traffic, 1965, as amended, which was adopted by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in 2011, defines a stowaway as:
A PERSON WHO IS SECRETED ON A SHIP, OR IN CARGO WHICH IS SUBSEQUENTLY LOADED ON THE SHIP, WITHOUT THE CONSENT OF THE SHIPOWNER OR THE MASTER OR ANY OTHER RESPONSIBLE PERSON AND WHO IS DETECTED ON BOARD THE SHIP AFTER IT HAS DEPARTED FROM A PORT, OR IN THE CARGO WHILE UNLOADING IT IN THE PORT OF ARRIVAL, AND IS REPORTED AS A STOWAWAY BY THE MASTER TO THE APPROPRIATE AUTHORITIES.
Just after arrival in port six or seven stowaways were found coming out of pipes loaded on flat racks. They managed to flee the ship, but five of them were apprehended by Border Force and returned to the ship. One or two managed to escape. Investigation showed that the pipes had been loaded in the previous port with the stowaways hiding inside.
Fines were imposed on the ship and the stowaways were not allowed to disembark until three weeks later when the ship fortunately returned to the port where they had originally boarded.
During this period, for safety reasons, six security guards were employed which made this a very expensive operation for the Member.
The ship completed cargo operations and the usual stowaway checks were carried out. No stowaways were found on board. As the ship was leaving the port area, a passing ferry boat reported that stowaways were seen entering the rudder trunk. Local agents were contacted and assisted the master in disembarking ten stowaways. The ship was fined by the immigration authorities.
Nine stowaways were found inside a container. It appears they had been in the container for ten days before they decided to break out using own tools as it was becoming too hot in the container.
They did not carry any identification and it took almost six weeks until they were formally identified and emergency travel documents (“laissez-passer”) could be issued. These are required in most countries in order to allow stowaways to disembark / travel.
The stowaways were on board for almost seven weeks, and significant additional costs were incurred by the Member as follows:
- The ship called at four countries before the stowaways were allowed to disembark. This meant there had to be extra gangway security, surveyors, translators, safety inspections and letters of guarantee. Furthermore, there were correspondents’ fees at all the ports and medical expenses for doctor attendance as four stowaways claimed to be ill.
- Security guards were employed due to the high number of stowaways – initially three were employed, but this was increased to six as the stowaways became more frustrated and difficult to handle.
- Diversion costs were incurred when the ship was finally allowed to disembark the stowaways.
- Local security guards were required to escort the stowaways during the transfer to the airport and on the repatriation flight.
PRECAUTIONS TO BE TAKEN
The ship is responsible for ensuring that all persons coming on board are properly documented and permitted to be on board for a legitimate reason.
However, it can be hard to see who might be a potential stowaway, as they often wear the same type of clothing as stevedores or other shore personnel, making it hard to detect and to challenge the stowaways.
It is recommended that, where possible, the identities of those boarding the vessel are checked at the bottom of the gangway (i.e. before they step foot on board) and that a thorough pre-departure stowaway search is carried out. In addition to so-called ‘professional’ stowaways, there are reports of a number of local companies and individuals who assist potential stowaways to gain access to the ports and ships. Often a small gratuity to a shore watchman is all that it takes to allow unauthorised people to access the ship.
It is harder to detect stowaways who have boarded the ship by the rudder trunk, and this is when the assistance of a shore/pilot boat, or an observant and friendly passing craft is often helpful. It is advisable that stowaways are removed and landed from the ship as soon as possible, but even where this is possible, the fines and expenses can be quite significant.
Seafarers and Members are reminded that any stowaways found on board a ship must be treated in accordance with the IMO guidelines. It is important to avoid any situation arising which could result in the crewmembers being charged with any criminal wrongdoing or negligence.