Stowaways increasingly put commercial vessels at risk

According to Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty SE’s (AGCS) Safety & Shipping Review 2019, stowaways are increasingly targeting commercial vessels which can have serious consequences, causing delays in port, while repatriation is a complex procedure.

Meanwhile, the ongoing migrant crisis in the Mediterranean reminds ship owners of their obligations at sea.

In December 2018, British Special Forces boarded the Ro-ro cargo ship Grande Tema in the English Channel after a group of stowaways threatened the crew.

The 71,000-ton vessel, owned by Grimaldi Lines was en route from Lagos, Nigeria to the UK when its crew discovered four stowaways and locked them in a cabin.

However, the four men escaped and demanded the vessel sail close to the coast so they could get ashore.

Ship owners have struggled with the problem of stowaways for a number of years, particularly for vessels travelling from ports in Africa, Latin America and Asia.

According to Intercargo and International Maritime Organization (IMO) data, there were 658 incidents of stowaways reported between January 2010 and July 2017 at 84 ports, involving a total of 1,713 stowaways.

Lagos, Nigeria, was the port which saw the highest number of reported incidents.

Migrants and people traffickers are increasingly targeting commercial shipping, according to UK-based stowaway consultant Robmarine.

Stowaways switching to commercial vessels

In particular, there has been a shift in stowaway trends in Europe, with stowaways switching to commercial vessels as security is stepped up at ferry terminals.

In February 2019, eight stowaways were found hiding in a container at the Port of Cork Ringaskiddy ferry terminal moments after it arrived off a ship from Spain – it was the second such incident in four weeks.

In January 2019, three stowaways were caught on the container ship Diana J heading to the port of Miami.

The presence of stowaways on board may have serious consequences for ships, causing delays in port, while the repatriation of stowaways can be a complex procedure for masters and ship owners.

There are no signs of improvements regarding the reduction of stowaway cases.

As a result, in 2018, the IMO updated the Convention on Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic (FAL Convention), adding new guidance and procedures for handling stowaways, as well as a new stowaway data facility.

Cargo vessels not designed to rescue migrants

Recent years have also seen an increase in migrants making crossings in unseaworthy vessels, most notably heading to Europe from Africa and the Middle East.

Around 113,000 migrants entered Europe by sea in 2018 – the fifth year in a row this total has been in excess of 100,000, according to the International Organization for Migration.

In June 2018, the container ship Alexander Maersk rescued 113 migrants.

The vessel responded to a request by the Maritime Rescue Coordination Center in Rome to change course and assist in a search and rescue operation in international waters.

According to the World Shipping Council, operators of commercial vessels are regularly called upon to assist persons at sea, and have a legal obligation to do so under The International Convention For The Safety Of Life At Sea (SOLAS).

However, commercial cargo vessels are not designed to carry large numbers of people.

The migrant crisis in the Mediterranean is a reminder that all parties operating under SOLAS have a shared responsibility to bring persons stranded at sea to a place of safety on land as quickly as possible, it says.

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