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