The incident

A container vessel had left from Lagos and the next port of call was in Malaysia. Prior to departure, the crew conducted a stowaway search as per the Ship Security Plan, finding no stowaways. The vessel then departed and after disembarkation another search was performed. Still no stowaways were found.

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The next day, the Bosun heard knocking sounds coming from the hull in the steering gear room. He informed the Master and the crew began investigating the sounds and could hear knocking coming from what they believed was the rudder trunk.

There was no access to the rudder trunk as it is space taken up by the rudder stock. The rudder trunk can only be accessed from the outside of the ship. This was a so-called unbalanced rudder, meaning that the rudder stock is attached aft of the rudder hinges. The hinges are at the forward end of the rudder. The vessel was in open sea and the Master stopped the vessel.

The crew lowered a camera on the stern to see if they could see anything by the rudder. When they recovered the camera, they saw three people sitting on the rudder. They then lowered the rescue boat and picked up the three men.

The stowaways had used a small rowing boat to reach the vessel and had managed to climb up the rudder and then into the rudder trunk. In order for the stowaways to disembark, the vessel had to divert to Cape Town.

Findings

There is never access to the rudder trunk from the inside of the vessel as it is just an open void considered part of the hull.

It is extremely unlikely that a person would be able to sit on the rudder and not be washed out of the rudder trunk during a sea passage. If people in the rudder trunk are not found before departure or shortly after departure, they will most likely be lost at sea

the Swedish Club explains.

To prevent stowaways achieving access, the Club calls operators to consider the following if the vessel is in a port with a high risk of stowaways:

  • Inspect the rudder and if possible the rudder trunk with the rescue boat before departure if the rudder is above the waterline;
  • Install protective grating or steel bars onto the steering gear trunk to prevent access from the rudder.

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