Stowaway on a ship : Full guide on reasons, further actions and official forms


Table of Contents

Who is called a stowaway in shipping?

stowaway on a ship is a person who illegally boards a ship for various reasons, secretes himself/herself in any location on board the ship & found after the ship departs a port hence they are called stowaway on ships

What are the reasons for a stowaway to board ships & do they create any problems?

There are many reasons why a person stows himself/herself away on board a ship. It may be for having a better living standard, to flee war, or escape discrimination/conflict/punishment. But due to hopelessness and inability to arrange funds for travel, such people resort to stowing away on board the ship. 

Once on board, the stowaways cause many legal problems for the ship, crew, and shipowners with the authorities at the ports of call of the ship.

Do stowaway on a ships have any rights?

The international convention on stowaways has not been ratified but they are protected by the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights.

These cover basic human rights, including the right to life & freedom from bondage, torture, degrading treatment & discrimination.

What actions should be taken after Stowaway on ships is detected?

When a stowaway on a ship is discovered on board while the vessel is at sea, the company head office, the P&I club, the vessel’s agent, and the immigration authorities at the next port of call should be notified immediately so as to minimize expenses and possible fines by the authorities.

If a vessel receives any detainment notice, then the Master to ensure that the terms mentioned in a detainment notice are strictly complied with.

The club will not cover any expenditure or fine, should the stowaway escape. The Club will reimburse the cost of employing shore watchmen approved by its local correspondents or the cost of safe custody of stowaway ashore.

In most cases, the stowaways on a ship have no identity papers or travel documents, and this is the main reason which causes great difficulties in disembarking them from the vessel.

What happens to stowaways on ships?

On discovery of stowaway on a ship, the Master should:

(a) Endeavor to find, if he/she is in possession of a valid passport or any identity papers. If not, the stowaway’s full name, date, and place of birth, permanent address, and similar details in respect of his parents to be recorded.

See “Stowaway on a ship Detailed Form” for reference :

Page 1: Click to view or download

Page 2: Click to view or download

(b) Prepare a detailed statement, regarding how and where the stowaway boarded & onboard security measures prevailing at that time, including the details of the pre-departure stowaway search, carried out as per the company’s SMS policy.

Stowaway’s full view, front view, and side views photo to be taken along with fingerprints of both hands including thumbs. A list of items with the stowaway to be made. Also, statements from the concerned crew and Ship Security Officer(SSO) are to be taken. 

(c)  Make relevant log entries. 

(d) Above Mentioned information, together with the vessel’s schedule should be relayed to the Club immediately, so that it can inform the correspondent at the next ports of call and make arrangements with concerned authorities including the embassy or consulate to have an emergency certificate” issued for stowaway’s repatriation if permitted by the port of call country’s law.

The relevant log entries together with the full statement mentioned as per above item (b) will be of great use in alleviating fines imposed by immigration authorities.

Example of Stowaway on a ship emergency certificate issues by the consulate or embassy for repatriation:

Stowaway on a ship
EMERGENCY CERTIFICATE issued by the consulate or embassy for stowaway on a ship’s repatriation.


(e) As having a stowaway on a ship is considered a breach of security. The Master should prepare the vessel for ISPS audit in consultation with the vessel’s head office. Normally the old ISPS certificate is withdrawn and a new short-term ISPS certificate is issued (after a successful audit) for vessels to sail out of the port.

(f) If for any reason the stowaway cannot be disembarked at the first port of call (after the stowaway was detected) then the responsibilities and workload of the Master and crew increase till such time the company arranges disembarkation of the stowaway.

Till then Master to ensure as before, the stowaway on a ship is kept in the proper quarter, properly fed, guarded & treated per international conventions.

(g) Just before disembarkation all the items of the stowaway are to be returned to the stowaway and a written acknowledgment countersigned by the stowaway, agent, and P&I club representative is taken by the Master.

After disembarkation, a certificate of disembarkation” is to be taken from the port agent by the Master countersigned by the vessel’s P&I club, the Immigration officer & Master. Thereafter all concerned must be informed.

Example of Stowaway on a ship certificate of disembarkation issues by the consulate or embassy for repatriation:

Stowaway on a ship
CERTIFICATE of DISEMBARKATION as proof of disembarkation from the ship.

Know More:

Common Shipping Terms.

Common Chartering Terms.




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