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CSO Focus: Stowaways in South Africa  

Written by Mark Sutcliffe 
May 6th 2016
Written by Mark Sutcliffe
Instigated by a member’s question, we examine the background and statistics for stowaways in South Africa and whether they justify the cost of dog search teams.


There are two sides to this problem. Firstly the good news, under the FAL Convention South Africa is one of the few countries that allows the disembarking of stowaways, as long as they have travel papers and the onward travel is booked. This is a vital service.


Recently 18 stowaways from Nigeria were found on a ship bound for South America, having hidden away in the anchor locker which cannot have been searched before sailing. Over a year ago 23 stowaways from the Ivory Coast were repatriated from a log carrier. For the international shipping community, being able to disembark these stowaways is both appreciated and well supported. 


The other side of the problem is the stowaways keen to leave South Africa. The current data shows the majority are not South African, with Tanzania accounting for the highest numbers.


There is mounting evidence that there are organized criminals involved in the operation. In Durban they recently seamlessly moved boarding operations from Maiden Wharf to the Point in response to upgraded security measures.


There are several professional stowaways at work. One who was repatriated to Dar Es Salem crossed back into South Africa only ten days later. The concern for our industry is that they have the time and resource to observe all the ships and focus on those that provide the best opportunity to board.  


The team at P&I Associates, who are the correspondents for the IG Group of P&I Clubs, have been extremely helpful with information and the background. MD Michael Heads has a good track record of lobbying the government, has written articles and given many presentations on the issue. His team are in all the affected ports and have a real time perspective on the key issues. We will upload all their advice and information onto the platform, both in Chatter (in response to the original request) and the Stowaway Group, and we will continue the dialogue on this issue. 


What is safe to share in the public domain is that Richards Bay has some excellent procedures, few access points and on the ball security, so just a few attempts recorded in the last few months. Durban and Cape Town have multiple access points, so the onus is very much on crew vigilance. Here a few very simple tips can be applied: watch the mooring ropes and take all the Transnet passes of anyone who boards the ship. If you have passes left at the end of the shift or sailing, you know you have a problem but at least have evidence for the Port Authority.


We will work up a simple guide of the top tips list with P&I Associates, but crew vigilance remains the key. The last update on the data around four months ago evidenced the monthly incidents of stowaways discovered to be running at around ten per month, with around 60-70% of these reported in Durban, the rest in Cape Town. 


What is important is to work with your local agents. Dog teams arrive 2-3 hours before departure, with as many as 5 dogs, but if they have peak demand with other ships they may need more than a few hours to search the ship. They must have the time and resource to search all the areas for it to be effective and their insurance pledges to be not claused (i.e. we could not search the whole ship) and therefore invalidated if a stowaway is found.

Click here to access the original discussion and continue the conversation.