Under the FAL Convention, a stowaway is "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".

On 25 September, the oil/chemical tanker CHAMPION PULA departed the Port of Lagos, Nigeria and, after 10 days, the vessel arrived Las Palmas. Spanish port authorities were surprised to find 4 stowaways hiding on the vessel's rudder. For over 10 days, they had survived on the open sea, close to the propeller, with minimal food and water.

Many African ports are hot spots for stowaway activity, including the port of Lagos in Nigeria. This is also supported by the most recent data on stowaway cases reported by the International Group of P&I Clubs to the IMO in February 2019.

According to Dryad Global statistics, there has been a drop in the number of reported stowaway cases after the implementation of ISPS Code in 2004, but it seems that the numbers are now increasing.

Whilst the number of incidents nearly halved during the 11-year period from 2007 to 2017, the number of stowaways decreased by less than this because the number of stowaways per incident has increased by nearly 50%, from 2.3 per incident in the 2007 policy year to 3.3 per incident in 2017.


Preventive measures

-The ISPS Code, which prevents unauthorized access to ships among others, requires a ship security assessment to be conducted that should consider all possible threats of unauthorized access, ensuring that no unauthorized personnel are able to gain access to the vessel.

-ISPS also stresses the importance of a watchperson on duty at any access point that is required to remain unlocked while the vessel is in port. The watchperson must be familiar with the procedures when visitors, repairmen, stevedores and other authorized personnel come onboard. Physical access control and random patrols, with particular focus on people located in unusual areas, should supplement the access watches.

-Prior to departure, the crew should conduct a thorough search of all compartments and the result should be recorded in the logbook.

As the CHAMPION PULA case illustrates, the rudder trunk is not an uncommon access point for stowaways and is often used as a hideout, especially when a ship is in ballast condition,

...explain Heidi Høvik Hansen Claims Executive, and Kristin Urdahl, Senior Loss Prevention Executive, Gard P&I Club.

-Finally, an aft-ship design with an open rudder trunk, like that of the CHAMPION PULA, can be found on many vessels and the following precautionary measures should be considered when such vessels are trading to ports with a high risk of stowaways:

  • Cover openings to the rudder compartment with grating or steel bars to prevent stowaways from gaining access to the area.
  • Install an inspection hatch in the steering gear room that will enable inspection of the rudder trunk prior to departures.
  • When in ballast condition, carry out an inspection of the rudder, e.g. by use of the vessel’s rescue boat or pilot boat prior to departure.

See also: Preventing stowaways on board