By Shilavadra Bhattacharjee
Wikipedia defines a stowaway as a person who secretly boards a vehicle, such as a ship, an aircraft, a train, cargo truck or bus, in order to travel without paying and without being detected.
Individuals stow away on ships for a variety of reasons but mainly they do so for the following reasons:
To leave a region of conflict (for example, the current exodus from a lot of conflict ridden countries)
Social or economic deprivation (leaving a poor country to find more opportunities in a richer country)
Stability, opportunity, better quality of life (related to the point above)
It is known that the likelihood of a stowaway managing to get himself/herself onboard is higher in the case of a poor/less developed country than in a developed one. Whatever intention it is done with, it is a problem that has to be dealt with the shipboard staff very tactfully, considering the illegality of the situation, the legal battles that may ensue and the human rights angle of the stowaway involved.
Stowaways can be classified under the following categories:
RefugeesA refugee is a person forced to escape their country of domicile, attempting the escape for reasons of war, civil unrest or religious persecution. The term forced is used because in this case they have no choice or a really bad choice for fear of their life or of the state of the country. Recently, there has been a mass exodus of people from certain countries who fear persecution and hence try to make their way out of the country any which way and under dire circumstances
Economic MigrantsThis category may consist of people who wish to leave their country of domicile for the sole purpose of leading a life of higher quality in another country. For example, it is seen in many developed countries that a lot of daily workers originally belong to another nation
Asylum SeekersThis is the case where an individual seeks asylum in a country without the hovering fear of repatriation. The idea is to avoid persecution in their home country which they may be trying to avoid because of political reasons such as an unwanted uprising against the Government or something along those lines
Illegal ImmigrantsIllegal immigrants want to forcibly make their way into another country without being conspicuous to the border control and immigration authorities for reasons that might be undefined per se. It could range from any of the above. The idea here is that the stowaway has chosen to enter the country without adhering to the proper channels of entry into a country, undetected. Stowaways are usually treated as illegal immigrants at the port of disembarkation in accordance with the legislation of the countries involved. However, stowaways whop request asylum should be treated in accordance with the relevant UN Conventions
CriminalsThis is the worst case and the most worrying of all for the simple fact that the person might have chosen to be a stowaway for engaging in unlawful activities. They could be involved with the transportation o drugs or other such illegal activities. These stowaways might be in groups and pose a threat to the ship’s crew sometimes seeking to make profit through obscene demands
P& I Club Cover for StowawaysInsurance cover for ship operators is provided by P&I Clubs for any loss and/or liabilities pertaining to stowaways. Mostly, costs are covered by the Club (sometimes aside from those involving the diversion expenses; varies in the clauses depending on the Club policies). There is also a clause stating that the insurance claim may be reduced or nullified if it has been deemed by the Club that adequate steps were not taken to protect the ship against stowaways. As shipowners as well as other ship staff will be aware, the costs of disembarkation and repatriation of stowaways onboard their vessels have to be incurred by the shipowner/operator. The costs involved in such a case may be the following:
Fines relating to stowaways onboard
Victualling expenses (Cost of food and other stores for the stowaway)
Costs of guards employed to prevent stowaway from escaping
Clothing, linen and beddings for the stowaway
Flights, accommodation and other repatriation costs for stowaway
Expenses incurred by agents associated with stowaways
These costs may normally be covered by the Club or the insurance claim may be reduced or nullified if it has been deemed by the Club that adequate steps were not taken to protect the ship against stowaways. The above points are also known to stowaways and hence they try to board vessels for obvious reasons of comfort. Even if they don’t make it to the country they are trying to go to, evidently they are well taken care of!
Diversion ExpensesThese costs are covered by the P&I Club and it is known to the ship owner if this shall be entertained and covered by the Club. In any case, in such an event that the vessel has to be diverted to land, the appropriate authorities must be contacted beforehand to confirm whether the diversion is deemed to be reasonable. The contract of carriage of cargo might be in violation due to the diversion along with myriad legalities which is why prior consent and permission must be taken from the appropriate Authorities. It may be necessary for members to arrange additional Ship owners Liability (SOL) insurance cover to ensure that their side is covered and protected in case of a breach with regard to the contract of carriage
(*To be concluded)