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The Convention on Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic, 1965, as amended, (The FAL Convention), defines stowaway as "A person who is secreted on a ship, or in cargo which is subsequently loaded on the ship, without the consent of the shipowner or the Master or any other responsible person and who is detected on board the ship after it has departed from a port, or in the cargo while unloading it in the port of arrival, and is reported as a stowaway by the master to the appropriate authorities".

Unnoticed by the Master, the crew, port and customs authorities, stowaways may gain access to the ship with or without the assistance of port personnel. Once on board the ship stowaways hide in empty containers, cargo holds, tanks, tunnels, behind false panels, stores, accommodation area, engine rooms, void spaces, cranes, chain lockers.

The presence of stowaways on board ships may bring serious consequences for ships and, by extension, to the shipping industry as a whole; the ship could be delayed in port; the repatriation of stowaways can be a very complex and costly procedure involving masters, shipowners, port authorities and agents; and the life of stowaways could be endangered as they may spend several days hidden, with the risk of suffocation and without any water / provisions.

The International Maritime Organization strongly encourages that appropriate measures be taken to reduce risks of unauthorized persons boarding ships. The FAL Convention sets out clear ship/port "preventive measures" and recommended practices on the "treatment of stowaways while on board" and "disembarkation and return of a stowaway".  

The Facilitation Committee, at its forty second session (FAL 42), on 2018, reviewed FAL.11(37), which was adopted at its thirty seventh session, and adopted resolution -FAL.13(42) in "Revised guidelines on the prevention of access by stowaways and the allocation of responsibilities to seek the successful resolution of stowaway cases". This resolution is particularly addressed to Member Governments which are not contracting Governments of the FAL Convention and to those Member States which find it impracticable to comply with the relevant Recommended Practices of the FAL Convention.

FAL 42 also considered document FAL 42/10/1, reporting on the outcome of a seminar on stowaways held in Yaoundé, Cameroon, and invited Member States and international organizations to submit proposals for amending the annex to the FAL Convention based on the recommendations adopted in the seminar.

IMO Member Governments and international organizations in consultative status are invited, by Circular FAL.2/Circ.50.Rev.3, to provide and update the data on stowaways via the Global Integrated Shipping Information System (GISIS). For this purpose a new stowaway module has been introduced where users are able to submit stowaway reports as well as conduct stowaway inquiries easily. There is a guideline for the users of the module, please click  to read more. 

Taking into account that incidents of stowaways represent a serious problem for the shipping industry and that no signs of improvements have been seen regarding the reduction of stowaway cases, the Organization strongly encourages Member States to fully implement the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), chapter XI-2 on measures to enhance maritime security, and the ISPS Code, which also contain clear specifications on access control and security measures for port facilities and ships.