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Durban - Stowaways in Durban and Richards Bay are costing shipping companies thousands and are a growing problem for port authorities as they hop from ship to ship, trying to catch free rides to a better life.
In the past two months 32 stowaways – most from Tanzania, but some from countries in west Africa – have been found on ships docking in Durban.
Basil Ndlovu, managing director at BIS Shipping, said stowaways were found “all the time”.
“What this means is the port they boarded the ship from is not enforcing the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code and this, in turn, endangers our ports. A stowaway is a huge cost to an agent of the ship he is found on.”
A source from a shipping insurance company, who has expert insight into stowaways and crew matters, said in Durban last month 10 stowaways had been found – seven on one ship. In February shipping companies, between them, repatriated 22.
The ports of East London, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town had also reported continuing problems with stowaways.
“They board the ship through the gangway or climb the mooring line. Generally these guys are athletically built and agile, which is how they can do this,” the source said.
For ship operators and agents, having unauthorised people on a ship can have serious financial consequences, as the ship can be delayed in port.
It costs $10 000 (R106 000) to $12 000 for one stowaway to be repatriated between Durban and Tanzania, for example.
Stowaway Search Dogs, a company operating in Durban and Richards Bay ensuring vessels are stowaway-free, posted on its website last week: “According to shipping journals, Durban is a notorious conduit for stowaway activity.
“Our statistics reveal stowaways are increasing daily and we can assume this trend will continue. That the number of stowaways located on vessels at sea is consistent indicates conventional methods for preventing stowaway activity are ineffective.”
The company’s Gavin Mooney declined to elaborate.
On its website the International Maritime Organisation said appropriate measures had to be taken about the treatment of stowaways on board and on disembarkation, and their subsequent return home.
When a stowaway was found, the ship’s operator or agent had to pay repatriation costs.
Stowaways gained access to ships by bribing port security or disguising themselves as stevedores. They reportedly made their way through the harbour between 2am and 4am, taking advantage of weary security personnel.
The insurance company source said the stowaways’ method was similar to that of a burglar. They studied the ship to familiarise themselves with it before going aboard.
Brigadier Anthony Gopaul, of the Durban harbour police, said Transnet security and the SAPS were working together on the issue.
“We average about 100 trespassers annually, so one can make the assumption these arrests reflect on the security measures put in place. The onus is also on the ship operators and ship agents to ensure they know who walks up the gangway and not to let them through simply if they have safety gear on,” he said.
In Durban, stowaways who made it off the ships were known to congregate under the bridge in Albert Park. From there, those
aiming to go overseas tried to find out where ships were going. Sometimes they boarded a ship thinking it was bound for an overseas destination, then found themselves in another South African port.
They risked their lives as they spent days at sea hiding in containers, cargo holds, engine rooms and other spaces without food or water.