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The number of individuals attempting to board vessels in South African ports is again reported to be on the increase.

According to our correspondents in Durban, the number of people trying to gain unlawful access to vessels in an attempt at stowing away has increased significantly over the last couple of months. With the current strict approach by the South African Department of Home Affairs to the definition of ‘trespasser’ as opposed to ‘stowaway’, the consequences for shipowners and operators can be serious. Stowaways create considerable operational problems for a vessel's Master and crew and the repatriation costs for a vessel’s owner/operator can be significant.

Many of the persons attempting to board vessels are illegal immigrants working in South African ports as casual labour. As previously reported in our Gard Alert of 26 August 2015 and 19 March 2014, South African Port Authorities impose an obligation on the crew of the vessel to check the identity of everybody granted access to the ship. Should any unlawful person gain access onto a ship in a South African port, the person will automatically be deemed a stowaway and the shipowner will be liable for the cost of their repatriation, unless the vessel can provide photographic, video or third party evidence (terminal security) that the stowaway attempted to board the vessel in South Africa.

Members and clients with vessels calling at South African ports are urged to be vigilant and be on the alert to possible stowaways. The responsibility remains with the vessel to protect itself and to prevent unlawful visitors getting on board. If a person does get on board without documentation, the ship will be responsible to repatriate that person and local immigration will not enter into any discussion whatsoever. Proper security procedures to prevent unlawful access to the vessel while in South African ports should therefore be implemented and the following measures considered:

  • No one should be allowed access to the vessel whilst in a South African port unless they are in possession of a Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) permit. If an individual without such a permit is boarding as part of a stevedore gang, the stevedore foreman must explain why this person does not have a permit and the crew is advised to take a picture of the stevedore together with the stevedore foreman as evidence that the stevedore boarded the vessel in the actual port. The vessels’ security desk should, if possible, implement a pass system collecting all the TNPA permits from the stevedores upon their arrival and returning the permits to them upon disembarkation. Every visitor should have ISPS clearance as well as photographic identification paper.

  • Anybody trying to gain unlawful access to the vessel should be escorted to the bottom of the gangway without undue delay and port security called for assistance. Every effort should also be made to classify the person as a trespasser on port property.
  • Individuals have reportedly tried to run past the security at the top of the gangway and these have been classified as ‘stowaways’ by the local Authorities. To prevent this occurring, it may be advisable to raise the gangway when not in use, or to move the vessels’ security desk to the bottom of the gangway to increase control of access to the vessel. Some are also known to have successfully climbed up berthing ropes or have been found trying to hide in empty containers and log-ships. Although at an additional cost, the use of private security guards patrolling the quayside as well as the forward and aft mooring lines should be considered.

See also the Gard Guidance on Stowaways for an overview of various preventive measures that can be taken by Masters and crew before the ship enters port, during the stay in port and after departure, to prevent stowaways gaining access to the vessel. Sections 2.3 Vessels surroundings and port area and 2.4 On board own vessel of the Guidance maybe of particular interest in this respect.


Information received with thanks from P&I Associates (Pty) Ltd., Durban, South Africa.