North P&I Club has noted that there had been a notable change in stowaway trends over the past 18 months, with an increase in activity around a number of European ports.
North said that stowaway specialists Robmarine had reported significant numbers of Albanian nationals close to the ports of Bilbao and Santander in Spain. It was alleged that people traffickers were active in this region and it was initially believed that the vast majority of these Albanian nationals were targeting ferry operators. However, in recent months cargo vessels had been targeted.
North said that a recently completed security perimeter around the vehicle waiting area outside of the Bilbao Ferry Port had seen a reduction in the number of stowaways found on ferries. However, the success of this security measure had driven the would-be stowaways to target Bilbao`s commercial port, with stowaways now being discovered, usually in groups, on board both container and general cargo vessels heading for UK ports that included Liverpool, Bristol, Portsmouth, Southampton, Great Yarmouth and Newcastle.
North said that the changes in stowaway activity could in part be explained by the closure of a large refugee camp located outside of Calais in November 2016.
This led to the dispersal of a large numbers of immigrants, mainly into the Netherlands, Belgium and Northern Spain. Nationals from Ethiopia, Iraq, Syria and Albania had also been discovered on board UK-bound vessels departing northern French ports, Zeebrugge and the Hook of Holland.
North said that, if a stowaway was discovered on board a vessel, it was very important that the local authorities at the next port were notified of their presence prior to arrival. In the UK, after being alerted to a stowaway incident, Border Force (UKBF) officials would attend on board upon arrival to complete immigration formalities.
North “strongly recommended” that any stowaway discovered on board be held in a secure cabin and that thorough searches be carried out for any possessions or identification documents so that these could be presented to the authorities.
North warned members that under section 40 of the UK Immigration & Asylum Act 1999, a penalty of £2,000 per stowaway applied, a penalty imposed on any vessel carrying an individual without the correct passport or visa documentation into the UK. Defence against this fine can be lodged within a 30 day period and, in order to mitigate the penalty, it was essential that the vessel be able to evidence that adequate security measures were in place on board. Evidence that thorough stowaway searches were carried from previous ports should also be presented.
North said that extra vigilance was required, not only in the ports mentioned above, but also in other areas considered stowaway hotspots. This was especially relevant with the summer months approaching – a period which historically had shown a rise in stowaway activity.
North said that access to the vessel should be tightly controlled. And constant watches should be maintained whilst vessels are in port. Additional security measures should be taken where necessary, such as additional lighting.
Preventing stowaways boarding with cargo, especially in containers, was a particular problem that required the co-operation of the port, the terminal operator and in some cases the charterer, said North.
The ship’s crew could take precautions by checking container seals are intact and paying special attention to empty, open-top or open-sided containers.
North said that, as a final precaution, and to supplement the measures taken under the Ship Security Plan, a thorough and systematic stowaway search should be carried out before the ship sails.