From recent experience I know what is happening if you find a stowaway on board your vessel. A
day after departure from a north african port, a stowaway was detected in one of the hatches. Although
the vessel was thoroughly searched before departure, the stow-away had managed to hide in a ventilator
and so escaped detection.
As a shipmaster it is crucial to remind the interest of the owner but you should not forget your
own. It is understandable that a shipowner usually prefers a stowaway to "walk" from the vessel
undetected as soon as the ship is in confined waters. However this procedure is a breach of the law
and the shipmaster concerned can be accused of smuggling a person into the country. With the events
of 11 September 2000 in mind and the actuality of security, you could easily be accused of an unlawful
As a member of NVKK, the Dutch Shipmasters' Association, I contacted the Rotterdam office for
advice, which came soon afterwards. I was recommended to follow the official procedures, notify
authorities in the next port (France) and treat the stow-away according to international law. Via
CESMA, the European Shipmasters' Association, I was met as soon as the ship arrived in port by a
representative of the French Shipmasters' Association AFCAN, who assisted me during procedures with
Although the stow-away was in the possession of some kind of identification paper, he was not
authorized to leave the ship as the paper lacked a photograph and therefore was not considered a valid
identification paper. The only solution was to keep the stowaway on board until a next occasion.
However a small coastal vessel is not equipped to accomodate extra persons and the tiny crew is not
experienced to deal with a situation of this nature. Some stowaways turn violent if they are not given
their way and they may become desperate, especially when they have to be locked up.
Any person who is entering a country illegally is directly taken away into custody by authorities.
This however does not concern stowaways found on board ships. Other laws appear to be applicable for
reasons which nobody seem to be able to explain.
According to recent reports the stowaway problem is increasing considerably, causing enormous
difficulties for shipmasters and owners. Moreover it is a tremendous security issue because of illegal
entrances into a country. It is to be recommended that the issue is tackled internationally and that
"trouble" spots are charted properly. One could think of a similar organisation as the IMB office in
Kuala Lumpur dealing with piracy, with a joint reporting system for stowaways and their ports of
According to our latest info, the stowaway is still on board the vessel, awaiting proper
documentation. Many nations which "export" stowaways are not very willing to co-operate properly due
to lack of interest or indolent administrators.
From a report by Captain Rudi Vos (NVKK)
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