The Convention on Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic, 1965, as amended, (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.

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.


IMO regulation and guidance

IMO 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", provides associated guidance and is working with several countries through seminars to help address the problem. For more information, click here FAL 42/10/1.

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 has organized three seminars on stowaways, two regional seminars in 2014 (in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, for west and central Africa, and in Durban, South Africa, for east and south Africa) with the top 24 ports of embarkation of stowaways; the last seminar was organized by IMO in Yaounde, Cameroon, in March 2018, with the top nine ports of embarkation of stowaways. The recommendations and conclusions adopted at the last seminar on issues currently not addressed or not sufficiently addressed in any of the IMO instruments related to stowaways, are beind considered by the correspondence group currently working on the review of the annex of the FAL Convention. 

Stowaways statistics

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 availablehere.