Stowaways Essay

This essay has a total of 2351 words and 11 pages.

Stowaways

Stowaways

Stowaways have been a problem to shipowners for about as long as there have been
ships in the sea. In the early days of sailing ships and looser maritime
legislation, this was a relatively minor problem. This probably had to due with
the fact that the ships were smaller in comparison to today's standards, and
were comparatively heavily crewed. Thus the chances for a stowaway to get on
board and go undiscovered for any length of time were fairly small. Also in
that age, the concept of "human rights" was not what it is today, and any
stowaways that were found often became involuntary members of the crew. There
was, therefore, little incentive to become an unpaying passenger on a merchant
ship. Today, however, ships have become ever larger, the maritime world has
become increasingly regulated, and the issue of stowaways has become a major
problem.

There are really several reasons why stowaways have become more of a problem.
The real driving factor is really an economic one (Wiener). With all of the
political and economic strife in the world today, there is a huge population of
people who are just tired of being on the rock bottom of the economic ladder,
and are desperate for a better life in a different place. This is really the
basic reason why someone would want to spend a week or so crammed into a stuffy
container or other similarly uncomfortable accommodations in order to get from
wherever they are to somewhere else. It isn't because they just didn't have the
money for a plane ticket, but it is the fact that they are being lured by the
prospect of a better life. They are willing to leave their homelands and endure
uncertain conditions in order to get there.

There is, of course, the possibility of applying to another country, such as the
United States or any other world economic superpower, for admission as an
immigrant. This is a very long and difficult process, and the likelihood of
actually getting in is slim. Even if it was possible, few third world citizens
can actually afford transportation overseas, let alone find and afford housing,
meals, and so forth, once they get there. The fact of the matter is that may
desperately poor people who would like to immigrate to another country simply
lack the resources to make the trip legally. Therefore, alternative measures,
such as stealing rides on merchant ships, become very attractive (Wiener).

Another component is the ever increasing size of today's merchant ships, coupled
with the gradual decrease in the size of the crews sailing in them. The modern
merchant ship has a staggering array of nooks and crannies that are perfect for
a person to hide in. Even with the best crew, there simply aren't enough of
them to adequately search an entire ship during the short time that they are in
port (Wiener). If, by chance, the ship's crew does become wise to some of the
favorite hiding spots, the creative mind of a man driven by desperation can
usually conspire to come up with something new. For example, there was an AB on
the LNG Leo (my ship this past summer) that had an unusual story. He had an
acquaintance who worked on a grain ship that had found a couple stowaways buried
in one of the holds. Apparently, they had somehow found their way on board and
burrowed into the cargo of grain, breathing through a couple straws that just
broke the surface of the cargo. Unfortunately for them, the cargo hadshifted
slightly during the voyage, burying the stowaways alive (Pegram).

The container revolution has added significantly to this problem. Containers
are, of course, packed and sealed well before it ever gets near the ship, and
they can come aboard full of stowaways without the crew having any idea that
they are there. It is only when the occupants of the container try to get out
and get some fresh air or food is it discovered stowaways are on board (Wiener).
Of course, when the stowaways enter the container, they have no idea where on
the ship that container will end up. They could luck out and get in an outside
tier on deck, where they could cut a hole in the side of the container to get
some air, or to go out on deck in search of food. This obviously can create a
problem for the crew, who are now faced with a roaming crowd of stowaways on
deck. The other possibility is for the container to be buried deep in the hold,
where it is impossible to escape from the container. This is good for the crew,
but creates a big problem for the stowaways if they did not bring sufficient
supplies ("Security").

There are also many reasons why stowaways create problems for shipowner. Again,
the major problem is, of course, money. According to the United States
Immigration and Naturalization Act, stowaways who do not seek political asylum
are considered "excludable aliens" and are prohibited from coming ashore
(Mercante 2B). Also, they must be deported immediately back to their country of
origin, with no right to a hearing to determine their status. The shipowner is
responsible for these repatriation expenses, and also must pay the cost of
detaining the stowaways from the time of entering the U.S. to the time of
departure. This usually includes a hotel room, food, medical treatment,
interpreters if needed, and a 24-hour guard. Should there be any violations of
the Act, such as a stowaway escaping the ship while it is in port or failing to
deport a stowaway, ships are fined $3,000 (Mercante 2B).

The real snag here is when the stowaway seeks political asylum, which any
halfway intelligent person would. The 1967 United Nations Declaration on
Territorial Asylum states that "no person shall be subjected to measures such as
rejection at the frontier or, if he has already entered the territory in which
he seeks asylum, expulsion or compulsory return to any State where he may be
subjected to persecution ("Note on Stowaway")." Further, the Immigration and
Naturalization Service (INS) required, until recently, that the shipowner house,
feed, and guard the potential immigrant for the entire duration of the hearing,
which could last for months. The total cost to the shipowner in this situation
could reach $400,000 per person, a figure that could easily wipe out a good part
of the carrier's profits for that voyage (Freudmann 1A).

It is for this reason that the shipowners have been complaining to congress
about the high cost of stowaways. In fact, some have filed suit against the
government. In a recent case, four Romanian stowaways were found on board the
M/V European Senator, owned by Dia Navigation Company. The stowaways were
interviewed by an INS officer and found to be "excludable aliens" under the U.S.
code. However, the four Romanians applied for asylum, thus giving Dia
Navigation the responsibility for housing, guarding, and feeding the four men
for the duration of the asylum hearing. During the detention, the stowaways
were found to speak no English, so a Romanian interpreter had to be hired so
that the application papers could be completed. Also, one of the stowaways went
on a hunger strike and threatened to commit suicide, thus requiring him to be
confined in irons in his own room. Dia Navigation requested that the INS take
custody of the detainees, but they refused. Eventually a decision was reached,
but Dia wasstuck with a bill for 54 days of detention time, a cost of $127,580.
Faced with this, Dia filed suit against the INS, claiming that the policy
requiring shipping companies to pay for the detention of stowaways was a
violation of the Immigration and Naturalization Act. Further, they claimed
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