While there was no further action by the authorities against the crew in this case, there have been several other similar incidents where the Master, as well as other crew members, were jailed, so the crew should take appropriate measures to prevent drug smuggling. Smugglers are typically seeking to use ships as a mean of transporting drugs to markets, in the US or Europe.

Typical methods of drug smuggling

As such, the Club warned of some typical methods of drug smuggling:

  • Concealed either with or within the cargo. This is mostly experienced on dry cargo ships, for example buried in the bulk cargo in the hold space or inside a container. Also, Pure Car and Truck Carriers (PCTC) and other ships designed to carry vehicles offer various possibilities to remotely and easily conceal drugs in a variety of spaces in a vehicle, including engine bays, fuel tanks and even tyres.
  • Brought onboard and hidden by “official” terminal stevedores, or by persons impersonating stevedores or other shoreside officials.
  • Deposited in watertight cylinders attached by divers to the ship’s hull below the waterline. This has been reported in South America, with the presumed intention that the cylinders were to be removed from the hull at one of the ship’s next ports of call, often in Europe or the US.
  • Placed in a package attached to a pad eye above the waterline on the stern frame between the rudder and propeller. In one such recent incident, a watchman observed a small boat operating in the vicinity of a Member’s ship in Peru early in the morning. The port authorities were notified and an inspection of the hull revealed the suspicious package dangling from the pad eye.
  • Hidden in void spaces in way of the ship’s open rudder trunk, which have been accessed while the ship is moored or at anchor.


Some of the simple precautions that can prevent drug smuggling onto ships include:

  1. If operating to a known area of smuggling activity, or if there are any concerns of such activity, then liaison with the local correspondent, agent or authorities should be conducted at an early stage prior to arrival at the port or anchorage to obtain up-to-date advice on the potential risk of smuggling. This will enable an assessment of the likely security risks in conjunction with the Ship Security Plan (SSP).
  2. Prior to departure from port, and as a final precaution, a thorough and systematic stowaway search should be carried out.
  3. The identity of all persons seeking to board the ship and their reasons for doing so should be confirmed by checking photographic IDs, work orders etc. Those unwilling to establish their identity should be denied access to the ship. Any such attempt to gain access should be reported to the SSO, the CSO, the PFSO, as well as the applicable shoreside authorities, with the local agent well placed to assist and advise on the latter.
  4. Maintaining a log of all personnel visiting the ship including stevedores, and a record of their activities.
  5. All persons seeking to board a ship should be liable to random search, but always respecting human dignity.
  6. Identifying and monitoring all access points that should be secured or attended to prevent unauthorised access. CCTVs, if installed, can be used as a further means of monitoring and recording activity in way of access points.
  7. Maintaining vigilance while in port or at anchor, including conducting frequent security patrols. This should include monitoring both the adjacent land and sea areas, the latter in particular for any boats operating near the ship; the SSO should be alerted of any such suspicious activity.
  8. Observing when a cargo hold is being topped up, for example, to ensure that no packages are placed on top of the cargo as the hatch covers are about to be closed. Container seals or other methods used to prevent tampering can also be checked, with particular attention given to any containers that are empty or with an open-top/sides, as these represent easily accessible areas to plant packages.
  9. Keeping areas, such as accommodation and deck stores, locked in port.
  10. Maintaining illumination of deck areas and access points during the hours of darkness and periods of low visibility while conducting ship/port interface activities or at a port facility or anchorage, including where possible, illuminating the ship’s side.
  11. Cargo destined to be loaded onboard, including vehicles, should be searched to the extent possible, the latter ideally in liaison with the port facility.
  12. Consider the installation of metal gratings above any accessible openings to the rudder spaces, as well as conducting a thorough search of any such areas prior to departure.

If any suspicious package or items are found onboard, the Members’ shoreside office shall immediately be contacted in order to activate the contingency plan that should already be in place.

Finally, it is reminded that, due to the nature of their activity, smugglers may be dangerous and armed. Seafarers should, as far as possible, avoid direct contact with any smugglers, leaving this to the authorities.