Steamship: Stowaways and International Protection in Italy

Steamship’s Genoa correspondent Studio Legale Mordiglia has reported that the firm recently assisted a shipowner in connection with a stowaway on board a ship calling at an Italian port.

Studio Legale Mordiglia said that “the stowaway was a 19-year-old man from Guinea. Most probably he had boarded the ship at Conakry and had been on board for over two months. Previous attempts to repatriate the stowaway from other EU countries had been unsuccessful, even though the shipowner had obtained a temporary document for travel to Conakry from the Guinean embassy.”

The correspondent said that before the ship’s arrival it had approached the Italian authorities for permission to disembark and repatriate the stowaway. “Regrettably, but not surprisingly, permission was denied for multiple reasons such as Covid-19, travel restrictions, unavailability of direct flights to Conakry, shortage of personnel to take custody of the stowaway and escort him, etc”.

Studio Legale Mordiglia considered whether the stowaway could be eligible for international protection in Italy. International protection is a set of fundamental rights which are recognized by Italy for refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection. In particular, under the 1951 Geneva Convention, refugees are people who have a reasonable fear of being persecuted in their country of origin due to their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or belonging to a certain social group, and who are unable to receive protection from their country of origin.

The firm found a couple of decisions by Italian courts that recognized international protection to Guinean citizens on the grounds that, despite the recent political-institutional normalization of the country, the living conditions of the people remained precarious, fuelling social tensions that add to political and, in some cases, ethnic-religious ones which expose people to situations of serious personal risk.

However, Paolo Manica of Studio Legale Mordiglia noted that a difficulty in this case was that, under the EU Dublin Regulation, the competent country to examine an application for international protection has to be the first European country entered by the protection seeker. In this case the ship had already called at two other EU countries before Italy.

“We advised the shipowner on the international protection option. The Master briefed the stowaway on this option and the stowaway prepared an application for international protection in Italy”.

As the ship arrived, the ship’s agent notified the stowaway’s application for international protection to the Port Police and the Prefecture. Studio Legale Mordiglia approached UNHCR of Rome, which instructed their local representative to assist the stowaway and cooperate with the firm in dealing with the authorities.

Unfortunately, the Port Police’s reaction was “quite uncooperative”, said the correspondent. The Prefecture’s officers boarded the ship, interviewed the Master and the stowaway and eventually escorted the latter ashore to a reception centre for asylum seekers. He will stay there for the entire duration of the process for recognition of international protection.

The ship departed the day after for its next destination.

Studio Legale Mordiglia concluded that “this was an unprecedented and difficult, but eventually successful, exercise which shows that, where the circumstances permit, international protection may be a viable avenue to resolve stowaway matters.”