News 13 Jun, 2013

Nigeria - Increase in Stowaways from Lagos

Nigeria has always been a country where stowaways may be anticipated. However, in the past few months the Club has seen a rise in the number of cases involving stowaways found on board ships that have called at Lagos. Members with vessels at or on passage to Lagos are advised to ensure that the crew is alerted to this increasing risk.


Case 1 – A stowaway boarded the vessel via the accommodation ladder posing as a stevedore. He managed to remove the padlock on the door to the emergency generator room and subsequently hid inside. Once clear of port, the stowaway moved into the cab of a cargo crane where he was subsequently found by a crewmember carrying out routine maintenance.

Case 2 – Crewmembers entering a cargo hold after departure heard voices and banging from an enclosed void space at the top of the bulkhead adjoining the next hold. The manhole lid of the access port was unbolted and three stowaways emerged. The men had been employed on board the vessel as stevedores and had entered the void space aided by accomplices who had bolted the access lid back into place after the stowaways had climbed inside.

Case 3 – The Second Engineer was conducting routine rounds of the machinery spaces. While in the steering flat he heard voices and hammering from the rudder trunk void space. The manhole cover to the void space was removed and twelve stowaways emerged. Although a substantial metal grill had been welded at the base of the rudder compartment to prevent access from the sea, this had been sawn through using a hacksaw and the stowaways boarded unseen from a small boat.  

Case 4 – Crewmembers engaged in maintenance found four stowaways hiding inside a cargo crane. The stowaways had mingled with a large number of stevedores when they boarded to discharge the vessel.


In three of the above cases the stowaways were either genuine stevedores or had boarded together with stevedores. Although the difficulty of controlling the arrival and departure of stevedores in Nigerian ports is recognised, as far as practicable the following precautions should be exercised to minimise the risk of stowaway attempts.

  • The vessel’s crew should keep a strict accommodation ladder/gangway watch at all times and a written record of all personnel boarding and leaving the ship should be maintained.
  • Only authorised persons should be permitted on board.
  • The stevedoring company or foreman should be asked to state the precise number of stevedores due to board the vessel at the beginning of each shift. A head count should be carried out when the new shift boards and the old shift leaves to check that everyone is accounted for.
  • Identification documents should be scrutinised closely. If possible, these should be left in the vessel’s custody on boarding and collected on departure.
  • It should be borne in mind that stowaways may possess fake stevedore identification documents and may also have access to branded overalls and helmets.

If not already fitted, external access to the rudder compartment should be secured with a heavy duty grating to prevent stowaways from entering the void space above. When mounting the grating, it is essential that it does not impinge on the rudder stock over its full range of movement. Ideally the grating should be welded in place so that it cannot be easily cut, bent or otherwise by-passed.

Consideration may also be given to employing private security guards. However, the Club has come across the same security guard stowing away on two different vessels that called at Lagos in the recent past.

Care should be taken to ensure that all spaces are inspected just prior to departure as part of a thorough stowaway search performed in accordance with the vessel’s Safety Management System and/or Ship Security Plan procedures. If it is possible to enter the rudder compartment from within the ship, the manhole cover should be removed during the search to check that no one is inside. A further search should be carried out shortly after departure as once a vessel is underway stowaways often emerge from their hiding places to find food or water or a more comfortable place to conceal themselves, there have also been cases of stowaways boarding vessels once they are underway.

During the stowaway search all padlocks and locked spaces should be checked. This process may be speeded up by applying plastic seals to such compartments prior to arrival or in port after verifying that they are empty, examining the integrity of the seals thereafter.

If stowaways are found on board before a vessel leaves port, it should be relatively straightforward to hand them over to the local authorities at minimal cost. However, if stowaways are discovered after departure, heading back to the port of embarkation should be considered. Such action will often prove to be the most effective solution as repatriation costs from other countries may be considerable. Certain countries may not allow them to be landed at all. For this reason some companies have a policy of conducting a post-departure stowaway search while the vessel is still within the territorial waters of the country just visited.

In some of the above cases the stowaways concerned were disruptive or aggressive. However, no matter how difficult they may prove to be, stowaways should always be treated humanely.

Members requiring further guidance should contact the Loss Prevention department.