December 7, 2004

UK P&I warns on stowaway problems

Ships' rudder housings are providing "ingenious but highly dangerous hiding places for stowaways," warns the UK P&I Club. Vessels coming from African ports in ballast to load sugar in Brazil are particular targets.

Some stowaways choosing this area for concealment have been found dead and others in very poor health.

When a UK P&I Club member's ship on a regular run between Djibouti and Yanbu al Bahr, Saudi Arabia, stopped at Jeddah for bunkers, a stowaway was found on top of the rudder assembly.

The Kenyan national had entered the rudder cavity in Djibouti and had travelled for two days less than two meters above the water line with the noise of the propeller and steering gear constantly in his ears. He was barely conscious.

As the stowaway had no documentation and because of other difficulties in repatriating him from Saudi Arabia, he returned with the ship to Djibouti where temporary travel documentation was obtained to enable his repatriation.

The void space around the rudder stock is not easily accessible from the inside of the ship. The UK Club advises that crews might gain access to the rudder housing through the steering gear room.

Problems with stowaways are featured in the latest edition of Loss Prevention News, just published by the UK Club.

The newsletter reports that Koreans operating in the port of Busan appear to have helped Chinese nationals stow away on vessels bound for North America.

In voyages to Long Beach, California, three stowaways from Fujian were found hiding in a deck container stack and four on another vessel. In Vancouver, seven more were discovered on a bulk carrier in a void space below the forecastle and above the fore peak tank.

There was no evidence of any crew involvement in hiding the stowaways aboard nor that they had gained access to containers. The stowaways may have boarded one vessel when the gangway was unattended. In another incident, four Chinese were allowed on board in the company of two Koreans, who claimed to represent the owners. There is no evidence of the four having left the ship.

From inquiries and debriefing, it appears that the Koreans in Busan provided help and housing for the Chinese while targeting suitable vessels.

The UK Club advocates training and supervision for crew members responsible for vessel security in ports. Alternatively, owners should consider bringing in security officers.

Loss Prevention News explains how authorities around the world have been tightening up on stowaway procedures.

Non-Kenyan stowaways may no longer disembark in Mombasa and must be handed over to the port police, pending investigation and repatriation. Disembarkation depends on a consular or embassy official confirming nationality and emergency travel documents being issued. The stowaways will then be taken directly to the airport.

As most embassies are in Nairobi, obtaining repatriation documentation and co-ordinating flight schedules could well mean the vessel is delayed in port.

Ships arriving in Durban from a foreign port must give 96 hours' notice of stowaways on board. Further, non-compliance with ISPS could hinder disembarkation. Where the previous port of call was South African, stowaways can be disembarked without notice, provided the National Ports Authority's requirements are met. If they are found on board after the ships have left Durban harbor anchorage, they will be allowed to disembark.In all cases, a pre-arrival form from the National Ports Authority must be completed by the ship's local agent and forwarded, prior to stowaway disembarkation, to the authorities.

Singapore will not permit stowaways to be landed for repatriation even if they have valid travel documents or passports.

Ships must declare the presence of stowaways on board prior to arrival. They must then proceed to the quarantine anchorage for immigration and port formalities clearance. The master must keep the stowaways locked on board for the entire port stay and sign a bond for US$10,000 for each one. This will be enforced for any stowaway who goes missing prior to departure.

Steve Hunt, Claims Executive, Thomas Miller P&I Ltd, commented: "People still go to extraordinary lengths to hide themselves away on merchant vessels, despite the prospect of physical rigor and possible fatality. It is particularly unfortunate when criminals charge large sums for putting people into difficult and desperate situations. Given that repatriation is usually a difficult and drawn out process, it all points to the increasing importance of security. Lax procedures, supplemented by momentary inattention, is all it takes for a stowaway to slip aboard."


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