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Secure at Sea: Every vessel needs plan for stowaways

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Secure @ Sea: By Corey Ranslem

Four stowaways managed to get on board a cargo vessel sailing from Nigeria to the U.K. in December. When the vessel got close to the U.K., the stowaways took control of one section of the ship and threatened the crew. Special forces and police stormed the ship and took the stowaways into custody without incident.

Cases of stowaways typically don’t make news headlines as they don’t happen very often. There were spikes in stowaway cases in and around South Africa back in 2017, but there haven’t been widespread reports since.

Most stowaways are usually detected before the ship gets underway and involve vessels that call on ports in developing countries. It is even more unusual to hear about stowaways being found on board large yachts. I can’t remember the last time I heard about, or even read about, a case of a stowaway on board a large yacht, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen.

There are several complexities when it comes to dealing with stowaways on board, and it can get very costly for the captain, owner, management company and port. There are many countries that will not allow vessels with illegal migrants or stowaways to enter their ports. There have been a number of high-profile cases of migrant rescue vessels not being allowed port access under any circumstance, even in emergency situations.

As we’ve discussed in several past  columns, creating plans for various security-related situations ahead of time provides for a much better outcome. Whether you are a regulated or a non-regulated vessel (in terms of the ISPS codes) you should have some type of plan in place to deal with stowaways in both port and underway situations.

Regulated vessels should have stowaway plans as part of their overall compliance plans. The access control portion of your plan is the first place you would address protecting the ship from unauthorized visitors, including stowaways. If unauthorized personnel gain access to the ship undetected, it is a violation of the security plan and could result in enforcement action through your flag state or the authorities in your destination country, or both.

If your vessel typically uses marinas in higher risk areas, it is a good idea to supplement your normal ship watch schedule with additional personnel, or consider electronic equipment – CCTV, access control systems, deck sensors, etc. – to detect the presence of unauthorized personnel.

The ISPS plan doesn’t have sections specifically dedicated to dealing with stowaways if you find them on board once the vessel is underway. Whether you are a regulated vessel or not, you should consider putting a plan in place for dealing with stowaways while you are underway. The situation can become dangerous for crew and passengers.

In the case I mentioned at the beginning of this column, the stowaways didn’t become violent until the end of the journey. It is impossible to determine how stowaways are going to react once they are found. If you can, secure them in one section of the ship and call for immediate assistance.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has set forth guidelines for dealing with stowaways in general terms. Flag states also have guidelines for dealing with stowaways,  as there are several complexities that come into play once stowaways are discovered, especially if they are discovered once the ship has left port.

When putting an underway stowaway plan together, you should consult with your with your management company, DPA, agents, flag state and/or security experts. These organizations can help you devise a plan  specific to your vessel and operations.

Corey Ranslem, CEO at International Maritime Security Associates (www.imsa.global), has more than 24 years of combined Coast Guard and maritime industry experience. Comments are welcome below.

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