Two recent incidents in Romania and Bulgaria are believed to have a big impact on the difficulties shipowners may face if stowaways are carried on board, and especially if those have not been discovered prior to arrival in Romanian/Bulgarian ports and subsequently declared in advance of the calls.

In August, a small general cargo vessel arrived in Constantza to discharge paper pulp from Italy. Three stowaways were caught while trying to exit the port resulting in investigation starting indicating which vessel they came from. A fourth and fifth stowaways were later discovered. Local prosecutor raised criminal charges and arrested the vessel and it took over two weeks till the detention order was lifted by the court.

Vessels arriving in Constantza with stowaways but having declared those, suffer not much more than an increased level of security personnel about the vessel and administrative fines which are not that high. Delays to vessel schedule are not common.

In Bulgaria, the situation is similar, though if local authorities are satisfied that the crew keeps the stowaways under lock whilst also respecting/providing for all human rights, then fines may even be avoided.

The change, or rather the current aggravation, concerns undeclared stowaways/migrants, who, if/when caught, raise suspicions and allegations for an attempt to deceive and facilitate the entry illegal persons. Public feelings in Bulgaria recently became very tender after a bus with illegal immigrants ran over a police car and killed the officers in it on the spot.

The risk to shipowners being rather obvious - prolonged stays in port whilst local police carries investigation, the speed of which is completely outside anyone’s control and when pleas for expediency or leniency may not only be ignored but serve contrary to ship’s interest.

So what can be done?

We, at Kalimbassieris Maritime, feel that there are sufficiently detailed checklists that have been prepared and carefully thought out by owners and clubs, refined with the years, and fully providing for both the limitation on time for crew and the increasing inventiveness of those that seek to stow away. That said, perhaps the following additional steps can be taken:

• Carry out search on before departure no matter the country and look for both stowaways and traces of stowaways – like for example abandoned bags with either remnants of food, water bottles or other materials, which may not belong in the area.

• Consider every en-route stop for bunkers or other supplies as a de-facto port. If supply vessels can reach, so can other small craft.

• Repeat search before arrival in port to assure that if bad luck stroke and stowaways are indeed present, then these be declared and the least the vessel will not be held accomplice and, obviously, reduce the possibility of delays in port due to investigations by authorities.

• Explain to crew that in some countries criminal charges may be raised against crew members, and there can be no guarantees that effective personal detention of those suspected as “complicit” to illegal entry cannot happen. If convicted, it may mean prison.

• Underline that a detention during investigation could mean a ban on travel and signing off at intervals at police station, which can last for many months or even years.

• Remind that many port terminals are equipped with CCTV cameras and the recordings may be made available to local police.

One’s otherwise truthful account of facts may be dismissed/disbelieved if 95% of the story checks out but the balance 5% is found to be inaccurate or – god forbid – fraudulent.

We are fully aware that stowaway checks add further work to the already very busy life of seafarers, but we are also aware of the difficulties and costs that both crewmembers and owners endure when stowaways have managed to find their way on board. Therefore we feel that all will be spared from way bigger pains, if the extra effort is put in – viz search, declare if stowaways found, and generally cooperate with authorities.