Following the announcement of tough new immigration enforcement measures, operators are alerted that ships arriving at the UK with passengers without proper identification documents or stowaways on board will subject to significant changes in the way these cases are being managed by UK Border Force (UKBF) at UK ports.
According to the Standard Club, these new measures will be implemented in the coming months in response to the growing number of illegal migrants entering the UK via the English Channel, which will have a significant impact on ships visiting UK ports.
In fact, the club has been already notified of several recent cases in which stowaways have been “refused entry to the UK” and masters have been instructed to detain them on board despite not having adequate detention facilities or consideration being given to whether the vessel crew can handle potentially violent stowaways.
Several European ports are experiencing an increase in stowaway activities in which stowaways are discovered, usually in groups, on board container as well as general cargo ships heading towards UK ports, such as London, Liverpool, Bristol, Portsmouth, Southampton, Great Yarmouth and Newcastle
It will remain the responsibility of the UKBF to attend on board and monitor ships arriving with stowaways to ensure that they are kept in secure accommodation, and the master is aware of his responsibility to detain and prevent escape attempts.
As masters hold stowaways securely onboard, they should take all feasible steps to identify, verify the nationality/citizenship, date of birth, home address, languages spoken, medical condition, and port of embarkation of each stowaway. The existence of the stowaway(s) should be reported to the relevant authorities in accordance with recently updated MGN 70 (M) Amendment 1.
Operators should also be aware that, under Section 40 (2) of the UK Immigration & Asylum Act 1999, the Secretary of State can charge the owner of the ship substantial fines of up to £2,000.00 per stowaway if they have failed to prevent such incidents.
Any ship carrying an individual without the correct visa or passport documentation may be subject to this penalty. There is a 30-day window for filing a defence to this fine, and the ship must demonstrate that adequate security measures were taken on board to mitigate the penalty.
Additionally, evidence of thorough searches for stowaways should be presented from previous ports. Recent developments suggest that the penalty amount will increase in 2023.
Finally, ships and crews that trade in Europe must remain on high alert and maintain ISPS anti-stowaway measures, such as constant access controls via the gangway, additional lighting at night, and frequent searches for stowaways. The use of external security resources is also recommended at high-risk ports.
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