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  • Stowaways

    Having a stowaway aboard your vessel is a nightmare. From the humble OS to the Fleet Manager, a stowaway will result in a lot of paperwork, aggravation and costs if one is discovered when a vessel has sailed from port. Here, I will be discussing precautions, possible hiding places and what to do if you happen to come across one on board.

    A stowaway has been defined by the IMO as being "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". What this means is that they will try to gain access to your vessel and hide in obscure locations for as long as possible, you're job as a member of the ship's crew is to have preventative measures in place to prevent them getting access and ensuring that a full and thorough search of the ships has been conducted prior to leaving a "high risk port".


    (Ref: IMO Website)

    We've all heard the saying "nothing is fool proof to a suitably motivated fool", well that also applies here. No matter how much security is in place both ashore and on ship, stowaways will always find somewhere new and creative to hide away in. To try and prevent stowaways from finding their way on-board, the IMO has recommended that the following preventative measures be followed (as prevention is better than cure):-

    A) Regular Patrols of all potential boarding areas - This is actually a requirement under the ISPS code. Whilst in port, normally the ship's deck will be all lit up with only one means of boarding. However a patrol must be conducted to ensure that no one has shimmyed their way across a mooring line and what not (more on this later). Also ensure that the gangway watchman has an adequate means of communicating with the OOW at all times.

    B) Ensure all access to the accommodation, Engine Room, cargo holds, etc that are not currently in use are locked and tagged - Pretty self explanatory, however when it comes to tagging, ensure that proper tamper-proof tags are in place (numbered tags) and that they are all checked to ensure that none are broken during a security sweep.

    C) Boarding and Disembarking log - Ensure that an adequate security log book is kept to keep track of who is on board and who is not on board. Normally, when an individual visits a vessel in port, they will be issued with a "Visitors pass". Make sure that all visitors passes have been returned to the deck watch prior to leaving port. If one is missing, then a search should be conducted to ensure that the person with the pass has actually left the vessel.

    Now, you've got all that security in place, you're getting ready to set sail and you find that one visitors pass is un-accounted for or a security tag has been broken. What do you do? Simple answer is, immediately report it to either the Chief Officer, Chief Engineer or Master. If it's just a missing visitors pass, they will attempt to get in touch with the visitors manager/port official to check to see if they've just walked off with the pass by accident (i've done it at least twice on the ships I deal with). If they haven't left, found a broken seal or are in a high risk port then a stowaway search will begin. Normally, all of the ship's crew will have their areas of responsibility to search. For example, the Engine Room will normally be completely searched by the Engineering Department and the deck areas will be searched by the deck crew. Those are the areas those crews work in so, in theory, they will know it the best. The accommodation will normally be broken down into deck levels and searched by the people who live on that deck. When it comes to searching, you have to be as thorough as possible. Small spaces, little hidey holes and even tank entrances have to be looked at as stowaways will hide, quite literally anywhere. I've heard stories of them hiding on the rudder stock, ballast tanks and even one case where one hid in the Fleet 77 dome (they only found him because they had signal issues and the Electrician went to take a look to see what was wrong. If you find a stowaway before leaving port, then normally the port police will be called and the offender in question will be handed over to them.

    Now, say you've set sail and have come across a Stowaway whilst you are one or two days out of port. Obviously, you can't turn around to return them, nor can you just throw them overboard, you will now have a duty of care towards them. Basically, what you need to do is: -

    A) Search them thoroughly - Check for any identity documents, weapons or contraband substances and take a picture of them. All of this will need to be photographed and secured with the Master as he and the shoreside team will need to arrange for your stowaway to be disembarked at the next port. As per usual searches, try to ensure that it is a same sex search wherever possible.

    B) Give them a change of clothing - Ships normally carry more boilersuits and T-Shirts than they know what to do with, so give them a boiler suit and bag/tag their clothing.

    C) Place them in an empty cabin with a one way lock on it - Stowaways cannot be left to roam the ship of their own accord, so they should be placed in an empty cabin, with a bathroom and shower and a guard on the door. Meals are normally brought to them as they are to stay in confinement until reaching the next port.

    D) Treat them humanely - Do not, under any circumstances, allow anyone to rough them up or assault them in any way. As I said earlier, you have a duty of care towards them, and you must take this seriously as they can sue you for it once they've been turfed back to their point of embarking. Also, the last thing you need, as ship's crew, is for one of them to fly off the handle and turn violent. Within your ship's SMS, there will be a form in several different languages. Please try to convince them to fill it out or you fill it out if they are unable to.

    Once you meet your next port of call, normally the local police and immigration service will attend your vessel to take the Stowaway into custody. Ensure that you hand over everything related to the stowaway (documents, pictures of where they were hiding, etc) and then you're job is nearly done. To finish off, make sure you learn from the experience and implement a new measure to stop a Stowaway from hiding where they did a second time.

    Does anyone have any questions?

    • gangs20003
      #1
      gangs20003 commented
      Editing a comment
      Honestly, how often does this happen? And which ports are considered high risk for stowaways?

    • GuinnessMan
      #2
      GuinnessMan commented
      Editing a comment
      Originally posted by gangs20003
      Honestly, how often does this happen? And which ports are considered high risk for stowaways?
      More often than you'd think and pretty much anywhere in Africa, South America and the Far East.
    Posting comments is disabled.

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