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Side 16

By Nicola Mason, Vice President, Deputy Head of Skulds

Hong Kong syndicate

The risks of stowaways

Stowaways pose a threat to the vessel, its crew and as highlighted by recent terrorist attacks
national security. Financial costs are often substantial, with potential fines against both the
Master and the owners adding to the burden. How do you stop stowaways getting on board and
how will ISPS help?

There have been many reports in recent

years regarding stowaways. For example:
The News (Monrovia) (,
8 April 2004):
"Four teenagers believed to be Liberians
are reportedly being treated for malnutrition
after an incredible sixteen-day voyage to
Argentina inside a ships anchor
Debka Mideast News, 14 June 2002:
"Container Stowaway Terrorists Steal
into America. In the two last months
between 75 and 125 operatives of the
fundamentalist terror network al Qaeda
are known to have illegally penetrated
the United States, mostly through
American ports."
Xinhua news report Beijing, 24 March 2004:
"Chinese police captured a total of 5,286
stowaways and 444 human traffickers in
a five-month campaign from October
2003 to March this year". Human
traffickers are not confined to China. The
Xinhua News Report of 24 March 2004
goes on to state "the police in northeastern Jilin Province arrested eight
human traffickers, including one from
the US and two from the Republic of


Its a lucrative business, with human

traffickers making substantial sums.
CNN news reported on 14 January 2000
that Chinese gangs were thought to
"generate $10 billion a year in organised
Threat leading to the vessel and crew
A stowaway or group of stowaways can
pose a physical threat if they become
violent. Assuming the stowaway(s) can be
contained in a cabin, if they cannot be
discharged quickly at a convenient port,
and they have to remain on board the
vessel for a substantial period of time,
this can also cause psychological
distress to the rest of the crew.
In a recent case handled by Skuld, six
stowaways entered the vessel at Douala
in December 2003. The stowaways hid in
the trunk of cargo crane no. 4 and were
discovered several days after leaving
port. Advice was sought from fifteen
countries on the vessels sailing schedule
as to whether the stowaways could be
discharged in any of their ports. Of the
countries approached, the only ones that
seemed positive were Dakar, Ivory Coast
and Portugal (with limitations). The six
stowaways were confined in a cabin,
causing inconvenience to the crew and

the Master. Every time the vessel came

near a port, the stowaways would
become agitated and rowdy.
The expense to the owners in
maintaining the stowaways, making
enquiries to have the stowaways
discharged at various locations and
appointing guards where necessary was
considerable. In addition, the crew was
distressed and was working in an
environment where they felt physically
threatened by the stowaways.
After two months, in February 2004, the
six stowaways were successfully
discharged from the vessel at Dakar and
thereafter repatriated.
There is also a further risk to the crew
that should be considered. A stowaway
could have an illness and by coming into
contact with the crew, could pass that
illness on (see also article on p.11).
Xinhua news reported on 5 June 2003
"Fevered stowaway deported after being
cleared of SARS at Tianjin port."

Handle with care stowaways can

infect crew members




Side 17

Photo: Scanpix

A stowaway from the Dominican Republic, injured in a

scuffle with crew members on the Cypriot-flagged cargo
ship Columbia One, is lowered off the ship in Miami

Potential for terrorism

A headline in the Boston Globe on 26
March 2004 read, "FBI denies link
between terrorist, LNG tankers". The
article referred to an accusation that
terrorists had entered Boston as
stowaways on LNG tankers from Algeria.
Although the FBI concluded that the
stowaways had no terrorist links, this
does highlight the danger from
stowaways if their motive is terrorism.

Photo: Courtesy of the U.S.Coast Guard

Even where the stowaways are not found

to have any terrorist motives, they can
still present difficulties to members if
they come from designated high-risk
areas. In early 2001, well before the 9.11
terrorist attacks in the USA, two Iraqi
stowaways were disembarked at a port in

the USA. The US Immigration Authorities

detained them in a federal prison. A
charge of USD 100 per day was levied
against owners for the stowaways. The
stowaways are still in detention and,
given the present political climate, are
not expected to be released in the near
Costs involved
The stowaway represents a financial
burden to both owner and charterer. In
the present market, where owners have
a better bargaining position, they may
negotiate clauses into their charterparties that place liability for the cost of
stowaways on charterers, or share the
cost burden depending on how the
stowaway got on board.
If a stowaway cannot be discharged at
the next convenient port, he will have to
be maintained on board the vessel with
food, clothing and water. This results in
extra overtime for the crew if they have to
act as guards. Most ports require the
Master to declare that a stowaway is on
board the vessel. Some ports may
require that guards be employed on the
vessel to ensure that the stowaway does
not escape.
Fines may be levied against both the
Master and the owners. Depending on
the location, the fines could be
The South African Immigration Authority
has a pure fine (non-refundable) of
around Rand 2,500 (about USD 300) per

stowaway. Should the Master of the

vessel fail to declare the presence of a
stowaway, a further non-refundable fine
of Rand 10,000 (about USD 1,200) will be
imposed. In Australia, under section 229
of the Migration Act, a maximum penalty
of AUD 10,000 (about USD 6,700) can be
levied regardless of whether the
stowaway escapes or remains on the
vessel. It is an offence to bring a noncitizen that does not hold a visa into the

How to stop stowaways getting on board

High risk areas
South Africa, Morocco, Tanzania, Algeria,
West Africa, Eastern Europe, Colombia
and China are high-risk areas where
total vigilance is required.
Container ships
There is an organised criminal industry
dedicated to the trafficking of humans.
Container vessels are vulnerable to
stowaways and extra care must be taken.
Examine empty containers and softtop containers. If the container has
holes on the top or sides, this may be
an indication that the cargo is human
Where the vessel is required to remain
at port longer than usual and receives
cargo during that period, enquiries
should be made and a detailed inspection
carried out of the containers received
The crew should focus attention on the
seals to ascertain whether they have
been tampered with, look unusual or
are missing






Side 18

Photo: Courtesy of the U.S.Coast Guard






Side 19

The U.S. Coast Guard prepare to search a suspicious

container for stowaways

Consider whether to employ private

guards, especially at sensitive ports
Check the cargo stow thoroughly,
storerooms, cabins, crane cabins,
Masters houses, engine room bilges,
forecastle, anchor chains and chain
Stevedores in poor countries are also
likely stowaway targets. Thus, check
stevedores identity and the number of
stevedores for each shift, possibly
retaining their identity cards until the
shift ends.
Know who is coming on board
Make sure that only authorised personnel
gain entry to the vessel. Check and,
where possible, retain and record the
identity documents of each person
entering the vessel. If the identity
documents look suspicious, contact your
P&I representative, since there have been
reports of stowaways posing as authorised
agents and visitors to gain access.
If you find a stowaway on board
Remember to use caution. The stowaway
may be armed and dangerous. Notify the
Master immediately. Always have more
than one crew member approach the
stowaway. This is for the crews own
safety and to protect the crew/owners
against false accusations of crew

Disarm the stowaway and remove

drugs and other items that could cause
injury to the stowaway or the crew
For the vessels safety, place the
stowaway in a secure area/cabin with
limited secure portholes
The stowaway should be given food
and water and be treated humanely
Get as much information from the
stowaway as possible

As the provisions of the Code apply to the

security of both ships and the port
facilities, there is a debate whether this
code will alleviate the problem of stowaways.
Historically, criticism was levied at
Governments and port facilities for a
perceived inadequacy in security
arrangements and the prevention of
access by unauthorised personnel to
port facilities and vessels.

What information should you get?

Identity details and travel documents if

Does ISPS affect stowaways?

Under the ISPS Code, contracting
Governments will have to approve ship
and port facility security plans. Indeed,
one of the functional requirements of the
Code is to prevent unauthorised access to
ships, port facilities and their restricted
areas. Measures taken by all parties to
comply with the Code should at least
assist in eradicating the opportunist
stowaway. However, it may be more
difficult, to eradicate the possibility of
stevedores who decide to stowaway. It
may also be difficult to eliminate the
stowaways that enter a container vessel
on board a container, as greater checks
will be needed at the place of stuffing the
container, which may not necessarily be
the same as the port facility.

Ask the stowaway his age, nationality,

family history, how and when he boarded
the vessel, if he had help from anyone,
last employment or education if any, etc.
Any information, if not false or misleading,
may help identify where the stowaway is
Photograph the stowaway and e-mail to
the club/owners. This allows the club to
start the process of identifying the
stowaway and getting him disembarked
at the next possible port.
The ISPS Code
The ISPS (International Ship and Port
facility Security) Code will come into force
on 1 July 2004. For a detailed analysis of
the Code please refer to separate articles
in this issue of Beacon and in issue no. 2,

This writer, an eternal optimist, hopes
that with time and the measures taken
by all relevant parties to comply with the
ISPS Code, the problem of stowaways
will be relegated to the history books.