The cost to owners in maintaining and repatriating stowaways, apart from the heavy fines which may be imposed in certain countries if a stowaway contrives to leave the ship, can be very considerable, and prevention is obviously better than cure.
A thorough search of the vessel should therefore be made before sailing and any unauthorised person found on board at the time of sailing should be handed over to the local police. It should be remembered that a stowaway is often assisted by members of the vessel's crew or by stevedores' workmen in concealing himself aboard.
Where, after sailing, a stowaway is discovered, the fact should be entered in the official log, together with the man's name, age and nationality and any other relevant information concerning him, and both the owners and the vessel's agents at the intended next port of call should be notified by radio, giving the fullest possible information concerning the man and any identification documents which he may have in his possession. Where possible, the following information should be obtained either from documents which the man may have or by interrogation, and should be included in the radioed advices referred to above:
- Full names of stowaway:
- Date and place of birth (town or village and country)
- Nature of any identification documents, official-number of issue, when and where issued and whether still valid. (This applies not only to Passports but also to work permits, etc.)
- Last address before stowing away
- Name of next-of-kin and last known address
On receipt of such information via owners' office, the P & I Club will telegraphically instruct its representatives in the country of which the stowaway claims to be a national, to contact the local Immigration Authorities, and endeavor to obtain the necessary official permission for the man to land in that country on repatriation from abroad. At the same time, the Club will instruct its representatives at the vessel's Agents at that port in notifying the local Immigration Authorities of the stowaway's impending arrival and arrange, if necessary, for the employment of shore guards to ensure that the stowaway does not escape from the ship whilst she is in port. They will also apply to the proper Consular Authorities, as necessary, for the issue of a temporary travel document to enable the man to be repatriated from that port. Liaison between the Club's representatives and the interested authorities in both countries does, in the majority of cases, enable the stowaway to be returned to his country of origin or domicile, with the minimum possible delay.
A stowaway at all times whilst he remains on board is subject to the same laws, regulations and discipline as the crew and may be worked in order to earn his keep. Under no circumstances, however, should he be entered in the articles as a member of the crew. When the man is landed or if he is transferred to another vessel at sea, relevant entries must be made in the log.
The Master, of course, is responsible throughout the time that the stowaway is on board to ensure that he does not escape. Failure to retain a stowaway on board until the port Immigration Authority's permission is obtained to land the man for repatriation, will usually incur the penalty of a fine upon the ship, in the United States possibly of $ 1,000 and in Australia of up to Austr. £ 500 per stowaway, to quote but two examples. In some ports, the local authorities will, at a Master's request, take the man into custody ashore at the shipowner's expense, until either the man is repatriated or until the vessel is due to sail, whichever is the sooner.
An unusual situation exists under Japanese Law in that if an employee of the Japanese Stevedoring Company loading or discharging a vessel, stows away during the course of the stevedoring operations, the stowaway's employer is liable to reimburse the owner of the vessel the amount of any expenses incurred by the latter in connection with the stowaway.
Stowaways should, whenever possible, be prosecuted for the offence. Section 237 of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, provides for the prosecution of stowaways from British ships, landed in the United Kingdom or repatriated on the United Kingdom after landing abroad. Prosecution under this Act is normally undertaken in relation to British owned vessels, by the Shipping Federation Ltd.
Deviation of a vessel to land a stowaway, including putting back, is seldom permissible under the bill of lading terms and, as the consequences could be extremely serious, no such deviation should be embarked upon without owners's express authority to do so.