The Secure a Ship solution sees trained operatives deploy with Stowcheck analysers, which have been developed especially for the detection of people hiding in confined spaces such as vessels.

This team can also be part of your security package if required.

Operatives are trained to use the analysers and deploy with additional equipment, which can be given to the crew so they can assist in checking containers to speed up the operation, as we understand time is money.

1. Agree Terms.
2. We mobilise a search team.
3. We conduct a Pre-search and identify potential problems.
4. Thorough search is carried out by our search team and your crew if available.
5. Documentation handed to Captain declaring no-stowaways are onboard.
6. Report sent to clients detailing improvements in security if necessary.

No stowaway’s have ever been reported on one of our vessels.


Stowaways seem to be an ever-present problem for the shipping industry, in particular to those trading on the coast of West Africa, in Central America, Colombia, Venezuela and on the Dominican Republic. In addition to vessels trade patterns, this problem is also closely linked to vessel and/or cargo type, as well as to the security training and awareness of the crew. The lion’s share of stowaways is found on board bulk, container and general cargo vessels. Car carriers are also over-represented compared to other vessel types. The costs involved in looking after and repatriating stowaways can be substantial. The repatriation of stowaways generally involves moving reluctant people across several continents and problems can easily occur. In 2002 the average cost of each stowaway case was approximately USD 7,000. By 2013 this figure had increased significantly, to just over USD 22,000. These numbers do not include the applicable deductibles paid by the Member and the actual costs are therefore significantly higher. If more than one stowaway gains access to the vessel, the costs have been known to escalate to USD 100,000 or more, simply because repatriation is usually only permitted with two security guards escorting each stowaway.

Shipowners and Masters face the problem of identifying the presence of stowaways before a ship leaves port or preventing their boarding the vessel in the first place. However, most stowaways are only discovered once a vessel has sailed. Dealing with an incident involves the Master and owner in time-consuming negotiations with club, agents and authorities. The cost alone from disruptions to the ship’s schedule alone can be considerable. There are a number of preventive measures the Master and crew can take before the ship enters port, during the stay in port and after departure. Therefore a thorough risk assessment should be considered, identifying the potential hazards present in the ship’s area of operation, the physical surroundings of the ship upon loading/ discharging and potential hazards present onboard the ship. Our bespoke team can take all of this off your hands and conduct the risk assessment along with checking your vessel for stowaways giving you peace of mind.

Reducing the risk

Physical access and random patrols, with particular focus on people located in unusual areas, should supplement the access watches. The value of random patrols can be significantly increased if all crew-members report any abnormal activity. A conscientious approach to locking and securing access points does restrict stowaways access to potential hiding places. It is therefore prudent to lock all doors, rooms and holds without hampering cargo operations. Locking the vessels access points should be a matter of routine. Where locks are not considered appropriate, tamper-proof or wire seals can be used, as any broken seals would indicate that an entry has been made.

In order to avoid detection, stowaways often hide away shortly before the vessel leaves port. An extensive search of the ship should therefore be undertaken shortly before the vessel sails. Our teams will be there to search your vessel 24/7 and speed up your operation saving you money when schedules need to be met.

Owing to the vast number of potential hiding places, a practical solution would be to divide the vessel into separate search areas e.g. accommodation, engine room, main deck, cargo compartments, and assign crew members with the responsibility of searching each area. Stowaways have been known to hide in the most unusual places. Besides cargo holds and containers, they have been found inside funnel casings, chain lockers, storerooms, cabins, crane cabs, mast houses, engine room bilges and even in the rudder shaft space. If stowaways are discovered during the search, the immigration authorities should be notified immediately in order that the stowaways can be removed from the ship. Again our teams look after all of this for you taking the pressure off the Captain/Master.

Reducing the risk Access points

Review procedures to ensure that there is a watchman on duty at every access point, which have to remain unlocked whilst the vessel is in port and that this watchman is familiar with the procedures when visitors, repairmen, stevedores etc., wish to come on board.
The simple rule is: no unauthorised personnel come on board, and all authorised personnel disembark before sailing. Check to ensure that all locks are locked and that places which cannot be locked are sealed with tamper-proof or wire seals. Different harbours and ports have different access points that are commonly used. In general, some access point entries can be:
Climbing the mooring ropes,
Climbing from the sea using hooks,
Boarding the vessel as stevedores with fake dock identification papers.
At some ports stevedores are supposed to wear special clothing with branded overalls and helmets. Bear in mind that stowaways may have access to these overalls and helmets too.

Inside empty containers, e.g. behind false panels.

Empty containers can remain in storage at warehouses or the quayside for a number of days before being loaded on board. This period can be used by stowaways to install a false wall at the rear end of the container, stretching from side to side and from top to bottom. The false wall will be painted in colours that match the rear wall of the container.

In loaded containers.

There have been some cases where stowaways were found inside loaded containers. However, these are very few in number. Prior to departure the crew should conduct a thorough search of all compartments and the result should be recorded in the logbook. The ship’s rudder trunk should be checked for stowaways by using on of the ship’s small boats. The rudder trunk is a typical access point for stowaways and is very often used as hideout. Once the vessel has sailed and the outbound pilot is still on board, again a search of all compartments should be considered. If stowaways are found at this stage they can be repatriated using the pilot boat.

Reducing the risk – Misinformation

Masters have used a variety of psychological ploys with varying degrees of success in the past. Examples of such measures are:

Misinformation about destination of the ship.
False destination notices exhibited outside the ship – virtually all stowaways aim to get to Western Europe/US/Canada, making anywhere outside these areas less attractive.
Announcement that there is a fire or emergency on the ship followed by the sound of alarm bells and shouts in the appropriate languages.
Stating that sniffer dogs are going to be released on the ship and/or a full security search carried out.
Stating that fumigation will be carried out prior to departure.

Degree of readiness

Stowaways may enjoy extensive shore backup and assistance from individuals who are part of various organisations related to port operations when boarding vessels. They will have inside knowledge of the ship’s destination, departure date, at which pier it is going to berth etc. Especially in North Africa, stowaways bribe their way into port facilities and other restricted areas. Once inside the port area they look for an opportunity to board the ship. From the port area different methods can be used to gain access to vessels and then hide in stores, accommodation area, holds, engine room, void spaces, cranes, chain locks etc. Recent stowaway interviews have revealed that crew on board have also been involved in the safe passage of stowaways. On some ships stowaways have had to pay a ticket to one of the crew on board as well, i.e. bribing both port officials and crew on board. Consider offering financial rewards to those crewmembers that discover and prevent stowaway incidents and ensure that all crewmembers are aware of the advantages of preventing stowaways sailing with the ship. Check security equipment, close-circuit television, alarms and locks.

Equipment for discovering stowaways:

X-ray machines

At one time it was thought that using x-ray machines was an efficient method of detection. However, it turned out that the x-ray intensity needed to penetrate the walls of a steel box would have been so great that it could prove fatal to anyone inside.

Stethoscopic microphones

Stethoscopic microphone testing seemed quite promising until it became clear that the background noises produced by day-to-day port operations were difficult to filter out.

Alarm system and/or closed circuit television

An alarm system with infrared detectors, door contacts, motion sensors, surveillance cameras etc., as in an ordinary surveillance system could be mounted on board to ease the monitoring of critical access points. The surveillance should be monitored from the bridge.

Heat seeking cameras

The purpose of a heat-seeking camera is to detect temperature variations of as little as two degrees inside a container. However, it turns out that this tool also has its deficiencies, as many materials, including certain types of cargo, can generate heat. Moreover, some stowaways have learned to beat the cameras by putting up layers of cardboard along the inside walls of the container.

Carbon Dioxide detectors

Carbon dioxide detectors are probably the most successful technology available at the moment and are used in a number of ports. The detector is inserted into the containers air vent in order to detect breathing inside.


The Secure a Ship solution see’s trained operatives deploy with Stowcheck analyser’s, which have been developed especially for the detection of people hiding in confined spaces such as vessels. This team can also be part of your security package.
Operatives are trained to use the analyser’s and deploy with additional equipment, which can be given to the crew so they can assist in checking containers to speed up the operation, as we understand time is money.

Our Services

UK Office

South Court – Hardwick Business Park
Noral Way, Banbury
OX16 2AF

Copyright © 2022 - 2024 Secure A Ship. All rights reserved. | Website by Engage Web