Stowaways Precautions


Stowaways are expensive to process and repatriate, and it is necessary to employ escorts to accompany them in transit when they are finally sent home. Vessels may also be delayed and fined. It can be difficult to find countries willing to allow stowaways to disembark.

To reduce the risk, appropriate measures are required to discourage stowaways from boarding or to find and land them before the ship sails. Below procedures should be reviewed periodically to ensure they remain effective.

  • Do not rely on the ability of the port authorities or terminal security staff to prevent unauthorized persons from entering the port area as in some countries security staff may be willing to accept bribes from potential stowaways trying to gain access to the quayside;
  • Before arriving at a high risk port the Master should request an additional information from Agent and CSO and warn the crew about the possibility of stowaway attempts;
  • Watch keepers should be briefed to report anything unusual including suspicious behavior;
  • Frequent patrols should be carried out at random and not regular periods;
  • Local Security Guards may be employed as an additional precaution for search prior to departure;
  • The ship should be equipped with sufficient securing tape, wire, padlocks and security seals (plastic cable ties) to indicate that spaces have been inspected and subsequently sealed;
  • The stowaways can hide inside the rudder compartment, in this case consideration may be given to fitting the base of the rudder trunk void space with a metal grill or such compartment to be verified frequently from Engine Room by opening the manhole;
  • Outside doors on all decks should be locked and sealed. Such doors may include cargo hold access arrangements, mast houses, store rooms, electrical compartments and machinery rooms;
  • External access to the accommodation and the entrance to the machinery space should be restricted to one door only;
  • Misleading information may be used to deter potential stowaways: a country of limited appeal may be displayed on information board or false announcements may be made about expected fumigation;
  • The mooring areas should be monitored closely, particularly at night. Rat guards should be securely fitted to all lines to make access more difficult, and additional lights should be rigged over the side;
  • Any overboard rope ladders such as pilot ladders and man ropes should be hauled up and secured;
  • The crew should keep a vigilant gangway watch, maintaining a written record of everyone who boards and leaves the ship. Only authorized persons should be allowed on board and identification documents should be scrutinized carefully;
  • Prior to each shift the stevedoring company should be asked how many stevedores have been assigned to the vessel. A headcount should be taken when the stevedores arrive as potential stowaways may try to mingle among them. Another headcount should be taken when they leave;
  • If the vessel has a low freeboard the crew should watch out for persons attempting to step across from the quay on to the main deck in order to bypass the vessel’s security arrangements;
  • Crew members should monitor all other access points such as ramps and side doors whilst they are open. When not in use such access points should be closed and secured;
  • Consideration should be given to lifting the accommodation ladder or gangway at night. However, the duty watchman should remain at hand to lower the ladder if required;

Search Procedure

A comprehensive stowaway search should be carried before the vessel leaves the berth or anchorage. A further search should be carried out before the vessel leaves territorial waters. If stowaways discovered, additional search to be carried out.

  • Close attention should be paid to the areas where stowaways commonly hide such as rudder trunk void spaces, funnel casings, hold vent shafts, chain lockers, deck cargo, lifeboats, etc.
  • Stowaway searches should be carried out in a systematic manner. A ship-specific check list should be used for this purpose, splitting the vessel into different search areas.
  • It is essential that all interested parties recognise the need for a thorough stowaway search after cargo operations have been completed and that sufficient time is allowed for this important task;
  • Areas which were previously inspected, locked and sealed whilst in port should be opened and checked prior to departure as stowaways have been known to overcome such arrangements;
  • When entering spaces such as chain lockers, duct keels, holds containing oxygen-depleting or toxic cargoes and adjacent compartments, the vessel’s procedures for entering enclosed spaces as set out in the Safety Management System must always be followed;
  • If available, the use of search dogs may be considered. In South Africa, Jack Russell dogs have proved to be very effective in finding stowaways, particularly in areas with limited access;
  • The Master should confirm that a thorough stowaway search has been carried out by entering a remark to this effect in the official log book;
  • In order to mitigate any penalties that may be imposed following a successful stowaway attempt, all shipboard stowaway searches made prior to and after departure, including details of the areas checked and all other precautions taken by the ship to prevent stowaways from boarding, should be recorded in Deck Log Book. Such details may include accommodation/gangway watch arrangements, the employment of private security guards, identity checks, security rounds, accommodation entrance restrictions, illumination arrangements and the securing and sealing of access doors, cabins, storerooms and holds;

Stowaways Precautions in South Africans Ports

Stowaway’s attacks have increased significantly over the last two months in South African ports. Authorities have made it abundantly clear they will not change their attitude and therefore the ship must combat unlawful individuals boarding the ship. The current ruling in South Africa is as follows:

Should any unlawful person gain access onto a ship in a South African port, the person will automatically be deemed to be a stowaway unless the vessel can provide photographic, video or third party evidence (terminal security) that the stowaway attempted to board the vessel in Durban.

The ship owner will be liable for the full costs of repatriating the stowaway. It is essential therefore that the stowaway does not gain access onto the ship in any way.

Stowaway attacks occur as follows:

  • Late at night or early hours of the morning
  • Clothing easily blends-in with stevedore gangs wearing stevedore clothing hardhats and reflective jackets
  • Colours not easily seen at night
  • Generally climb up berthing ropes, gangways and hide in empty containers and log-ships
  • Many personnel working on vessel enables stowaway to blend in
  • They bribe terminal security to enable them to get aboard vessel
  • Carry provisions for part of the journey

The following measures to be applied:

  • The private security company to be employed to patrol the quayside. Security on board is ineffective as the guards tend to fall asleep on board.
  • Ideally a crew member must stand at the bottom of the gangway and check that every person boarding the vessel is in possession of a TNPA port permit.
  • They must not allow anyone on board the ship who does not have a port permit.
  • Every visitor should have ISPS clearance and photographic identification.
  • All visitors should surrender their port permit to security and they should collect the same when they leave the ship.
  • They must not allow any individuals to push past them on the gangway. We have had repeated cases where individuals have run past security at the top of the gangway. This is too late and the local authorities will deem the individual as being a stowaway.
  • Where possible raise the gangway and only lower it and allow the visitor on board after a crew member has got to the bottom of the gangway and verified who the visitor is as outlined above.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s