South Africa: Dealing with stowaways

The Field

Published: 11 August 2015

The Field issue 3: Update and practical advice

In February this year our correspondents in South Africa, P&I associates (PTY) Ltd, in association with the Skuld loss prevention and recurring claims group issued advice in relation to the increased incidence of stowaways in South African ports. Since then, we have continued to see an increase in stowaway cases, especially on offshore support vessels (OSVs). This is somewhat unusual as the nature of most OSVs tend to operate in and out of the same port, rather than traditional 'bluewater' vessels where the work is more transient. However, it may be that OSVs are regarded as "easier targets" than bluewater vessels due to their typically low freeboard.

As set out in the circular, the South African immigration authorities have issued a notice advising that if an illegal person is found on board a vessel, they will be classed as a stowaway rather than a trespasser if there is no definitive evidence to the contrary. The onus therefore rests on owners to prove with tangible evidence that the person boarded the vessel in South Africa. From experience, the immigration authorities do not consider statements from stowaways as credible and are equally unlikely to accept the crew's word.

It is therefore essential that strict controls are in place in relation to parties who are granted access to the vessel (see earlier advice) to control potential exposure, while consideration is given in relation to steps to be taken to protect members' interests in relation to those who board by other means.

Dealing with each in turn:

Those granted access

  • Any visitor to a vessel must produce a Transnet National Ports authority (TNPA) permit
  • If there are insufficient ISPS passes for stevedores, the crew should record visitors' ID numbers in a book, with each person being signed on and off the vessel
  • Some stevedore companies use temporary labourers who will not have TNPA passes. If this is the case, each labourer must be required to produce their South African green barcoded identity document (or copy certified by the South African police) before being granted access
  • The passes or identity documents should only be returned when the visitor leaves the vessel
  • If a visitor does not collect their document from the gangway watch, the crew will then know that this person is still on board. If that person subsequently claims to be a stowaway, the master will be able to produce evidence to the immigration authorities that the person boarded the vessel in South Africa. This should mean the visitor is declared a trespasser rather than a stowaway

Those not granted access

  • Prepare a formal plan or checklist for stowaway prevention and a search plan
  • Raise crew awareness of increased stowaway risk at each scheduled port of call
  • Maintain a proper deck watch to prevent stowaways climbing up gangways and mooring lines unseen. Remember that a significant percentage of stowaways gain access to the vessel by the gangway
  • Consider installing security cameras monitoring points at which stowaways may enter the vessel
  • Maintain a gangway watch at all times when the vessel is in port
  • Fit all lines with rat guards
  • Identify easy-access areas such as the engine room, storeroom and lifeboats, and instruct the crew to keep these locked while in port
  • Lock the fo'c'sle and accommodation doors while in port
  • Padlock the vessel's funnel top hatch
  • Inspect the chain locker and block all rope gaps
  • Consider employing security guards while the vessel is in port. The average price for a guard is USD50 per shift

As detailed above, the onus is on the owner to protect the vessel by preventing unlawful parties boarding it. The Immigration Authority policy has been in operation for some time and their position is that it is clear, unambiguous and well publicised. Consequently, they will not enter into any discussions with owners unless there is clear evidence to persuade them that the stowaway boarded the vessel in South Africa. As such, any person who does get on board without documentation will be declared a stowaway, which means the shipowner is liable for the repatriation costs.

The best stowaway prevention is a well-trained and motivated crew, who understand the costs, risks and disruption to the vessel's operation if stowaways come on board. If the measures detailed in this article are also successfully implemented, then stowaway risk in South African ports will be significantly reduced.

The Association is grateful to correspondents P&I Associates (PTY) Ltd for their assistance with this update.