The Convention on Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic, 1965, as amended, (the FAL Convention), sets out measures to prevent stowaway incidents as well as provisions on the treatment of stowaways while on board and on the disembarkation and return of a stowaway.
The FAL Convention defines a 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, etc.
The presence of stowaways on board ships may bring serious consequences. The life of stowaways could be endangered as they may spend several days hidden, with the risk of suffocation and without any water or provisions. 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
IMO regulation and guidance
IMO strongly encourages that appropriate measures be taken to reduce risks of unauthorized persons boarding ships and provides associated guidance and support to several countries through seminars to help address the problem.
In 2018, the Facilitation Committee (FAL 42) adopted Resolution FAL.13 (42) on "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.
Taking into account that incidents of stowaways represent a serious problem for the shipping industry and that stowaway cases continue to be reported, IMO 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.
IMO organizes capacity building activities to address stowaways. The most recent ones took place as follows:
- a national seminar in South Africa in 2022; (click here)
- a seminar organized in Cameroon with nine ports with high prevalence of stowaway incidents in 2018; (click here)
- two seminars in 2014 (in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire and in Durban, South Africa) covering the ports with higher number of stowaway incidents in West, Central, East and South Africa. (click here)
The recommendations and conclusions adopted at the seminars mentioned above on issues not addressed or not sufficiently addressed in any of the IMO instruments resulted in new amendments to the FAL Convention adopted in 2022 which will be in force as from 2024.
- A new recommended practice sets out that the stowaways should not receive any payments, or other benefits beyond the minimal requirements to ensure the security, general health, welfare and safety of the stowaways while on board or on shore, as that might act as an incentive to reoffend or as an encouragement to other persons attempting to stow away on board ships.
- In addition, the Convention recommends that all cases of stowaways detected in port while attempting to board a ship or ships should be reported to the appropriate port authorities, which will inform all nearby ships. Ships should follow the guidance of the appropriate port and law enforcement authorities. Any procedures should be conducted in such a manner as to cause a minimum of interference and to prevent unnecessary delays to ships.
IMO Member Governments and international organizations in consultative status are invited to provide and update data on stowaways cases via the Global Integrated Shipping Information System (GISIS). The stowaway module allows users to submit stowaway reports as well as conduct stowaway inquiries easily. More information is provided in Circular FAL.2/Circ.50.Rev.3.
Please click here for guidelines for the use of the module.
Data on stowaways incidents collected by the International Group of P&I Clubs is available here.