By Yusuf Odejobi
Seaports are usually regarded as the economic gateway to every nation. They play crucial roles in economic growth, stability and sustainability as the nation relies on ports for exports and imports.
In Nigeria, the Lagos Port Complex Apapa and Tin-Can Island Port Complex are the busiest ports linking the nation with the globe for trade, but the influx of ships in and out of these ports also pose opportunities for stowaway and Lagos in among the top 10 cities of the global index of stowaway.
While the more deserving accomplishments for Lagos ports is to be the leading ports in the sub-region and Africa, the reality is that Lagos ports are becoming more famous for numerous ills and challenges including stowaways which continues to record a higher number of cases over the years.
Recent data on stowaway cases by the International Group of P&I Clubs (IG) to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in February 2019 carried out on 4 policy years commencing 20 February 2007, 2011, 2014 and 2017 respectively.
With 2017 being the latest, 432 incidents were recorded involving 1,420 stowaways. The majority of them, over 250 were Nigerian nationals with over 40 incidents cases at Lagos port.
Last week, a stowaway attempt was foiled on the Atlantic Pride vessel at the Petroleum Wharf Apapa (PWA) NNPC Jetty in Lagos. As seen in the viral video, 4 persons were seen disembarked by security operatives from the vessel with their belongings wrapped in clothes.
The Convention on Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic (FAL Convention), defines a stowaway as “a person who is secreted on a ship, or in cargo which is subsequently loaded on the ship, without the consent of the ship-owner or the master or any other responsible person and who is detected on board the ship after it has departed from a port, or in the cargo while unloading it in the port of arrival, and is reported as a stowaway by the master to the appropriate authorities”.
Few stowaway stories have such happy endings as they’re often granted asylum in country of destination while some may cause huge inconvenience, fines and expense on the shipping companies and occasionally end in disaster or repatriation. It is an indisputable fact that stowaways constitute a threat to maritime security and the shipping industry; as they have the capability to endanger ship and cargo and interfere with the smooth running of shipping operations.
Speaking with MMS Plus newspaper, the Forum Chairman, Lagos Maritime Security Zone of the Port Facility Security Officers of Nigeria (PFSON), Dr. Ignatius Uche attributed the lack of stiffen penalty on stowaway as one of the problems in the country and therefore called for a review of stowaway penalty.
He said: “The fine or penalty for stowaway in Nigeria is not severe. When they’re caught the perpetrators are asked to go sweep the court. Sometimes the lawyers will tell us that these people are still within Nigeria depending on the location where they’re caught. In such situations, they argue that it’s no longer regarded as stowaway. They will tell us it’s an attempted stowaway because they’re still within the Nigeria Explicit Economic Zone (EEZ). It becomes stowaway when the person crosses the nation’s EEZ.
Uche explained a different scenario whereby an individual boarded a vessel from Tin-can port thinking the vessel’s next port of call is Europe and it ended up going to Port Harcourt. Also a case of a Ghanaian entering a vessel to stowaway and the next port of call is Nigeria.
“The jurisdictional issue as to where and how to categorize and classify stowaway is a major challenge. The government should do something about it, also the maritime stakeholders; port operators, port industry regulatory body and terminal operators must all put their hands on deck to tackle this menace.”
The forum Chairman noted that the issue of stowaway is not only a teething problem bedeviling the maritime industry but it also portrays the porosity of the nation’s maritime domain.
He argued that the menace is a confirmation of the high rate of unemployment and the desperation of people that want to go for greener pastures.
“The question is where and how do they have access, is it through the seaward or landward. It’s a problem that is multifaceted and needs a multifaceted approach to address it. It takes two to tangle and usually maritime crime is through cartels and organized crimes. People who have access and tailgate use their privileged position to bring in miscreants and before you know it it becomes a problem.”
He added that stowaway cases can only be minimized and not completely eradicated as it evolves everyday and because some people have tried and succeeded, also encourage others to give it a try.
While speaking on repatriation of stowaways, he noted it is not common in the country but concerted efforts should be made by all relevant agencies concerned as the cost implications of repatriation is very harsh.
“It’s more than $10, 000 to repatriate one stowaway and it has been laundering our image in the eyes of the international community. In the days of old we recommend joint stowaway search for every vessel that calls to our port and to what extent that is being done it needs to be verified because these people are not spirit they’re human being.
“They at times join the vessel while the vessel is on its way to route. They use canoes to follow the vessel and use monkey jacks to get onboard. The risk they take is very high; some of them might even fall into the water and die by drowning. It’s just the ones that we see that we are talking about. Nigeria Immigration Service has officers on arrival and departure, so they should do their work. All agencies concerned in the maritime industry should also do what they’re supposed to do and perform their roles to curb this menace,” he said.
Industry stakeholders have posited that having stowaways on board is evidence of breach in port security management and considered as the ship and ports not in compliance with the International Ship and Port Facility Security( ISPS) code.
The forum Chairman however affirmed that the nation is in compliance with the ISPS code as the country has even surpassed the percentage required by the regulatory body.
“Nigeria is compliance to the code; it is just an indicator of level of compliance. As far as the code is concerned Nigeria has even surpassed the percentage required by the international community especially the IMO and the US code for mobilizing the implementation of ISPS. Each time they come they’ve always been giving us a clean bill and of course extend partnership beyond expectations.
“There was time Nigeria was almost 95.4% in terms of implementation so it’s just an indicator that something needs to be done in terms of preventing unauthorized persons not that Nigeria is not in compliance to the code,” he noted.
Corroborating on how stowaways have a negative impact on the image of the nation, Captain Emmanuel Kaure said “I must say that this act is not acceptable in the maritime sector as it brings a bad reputation to the entire nation. It shows how porous the security level of our terminals and offshore is.”
The veteran ship captain added that the nation needs to work on the security level of the terminals at the port. “We need to employ the use of the coast guards in our waters” He advised.
Also speaking, the Chairman, Port Consultative Council (PCC), Otunba Kunle Folarin noted that stowaway is a serious crime.
He opined that anyone caught should be prosecuted according to the Immigration law of the federal Republic of Nigeria.
The President General of Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN), Comrade Adewale Adeyanju frowned at the increasing case of stowaways in the country.
His words: “The idea of stowaway onboard vessels was believed to have been killed several years ago, but this recent incident shows that there is a need to intensify efforts to curb it. MWUN and the workers at ports and shipping lines have to look at the issue seriously. There is the security implication of not having bonafide officers onboard vessels to identify those who board or disembark from ships.”
“Let us not forget that it gives the nation a bad image on the global scene when ships berth and they realize that Nigerians have been smuggled through ships. It’s a problem that Nigerian Ports Authority and Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) must tackle headlong”