Stop Loss 10 - Stowaways in Trailers & Containers

The smuggling of immigrants into the affluent countries of North America and Europe has increased enormously in recent years as people try to flee civil wars or persecution in their own countries, or simply seek a better life. Political imperatives in these target countries have led governments to impose greater restrictions on immigration, which, in turn, have fuelled the desire of people to reach their chosen goal. Criminals have stepped in to fill the gap between supply and demand and they know that the simplest way to move people across international borders is to hide them in legitimate freight transport. In order to combat the intentions of the stowaway and to avoid the imposition of fines on discovery of the stowaways, all operators of freight units should be constantly vigilant. To assist with this vigilance the following simple suggestions could be used:

Road trailers

  • Checking the loading of the vehicle is the responsibility of the driver. The driver should only sign a clean load receipt when a proper check of the loading is possible.
  • Check the entirety of the seal cord (TIR Cord), in particular its ends and the seal strip to ensure that it is intact and free from cracks and has not been cut and put back together.
  • After loading ensure that the vehicle is closed and sealed with a seal appropriate for the vehicle. This should be supplied by the operator or by the loading point.
  • Seals should be attached by the shipper of the goods or alternatively by the driver in the presence of the shipper. The seal number should be properly annotated on the transport papers.
  • Each time the trailer or unit is left unattended - for meals, overnight or at terminals, etc - on return to the trailer the seals and TIR Cord should be checked.
  • In driver accompanied units, a portable listening device, such as a baby alarm, could be installed in the trailer with the control unit in the driverʼs cab.
  • If there is the slightest suspicion that one or more people have gained access to the trailer, irrespective of where you are, you should immediately alert the local authorities (police,
    customs, ferry operator, etc).
  •  Drivers of vehicles bound for the United Kingdom should check their vehicle carefully before loading on to the channel transit method. If there is any suspicion that the vehicle has been entered, notify the authorities. Do not open the vehicle yourself, await help from the authorities.
  • United Kingdom authorities impose a fine of GBP2,000 (US$3,200) for each illegal immigrant or stowaway found in vehicles entering the UK. This fine is normally levied upon the vehicle driver but may be levied on vehicle owners or operators.
  • Constant vigilance and awareness is the only way to combat stowaways in this type of transport.
  •  Drivers are fined GBP2,000 for each stowaway found in vehicles entering the UK.


  •  Precautions that can be taken against the opportunist stowaway in freight containers are many, but often the simplest, and cheapest, have the greatest effect. There are only a few places where checks for stowaways can be made and the export terminal is the last point of checking.
  • Many companies and terminals identify the final destination of freight units by destination boards against blocks of containers. This is a great help to the stowaway and should be avoided. Modern terminal planning and computerised systems should no longer require destination identification on the terminal.


  •  Terminals should be secure places and the same actions for terminal security will make the intentions of the stowaway, or their criminal assistants, much more difficult.
  • Terminals need to maintain security measures - ensure that fences are secure, gates are permanently shut or continuously guarded and regularly check lighting and any CCTV systems. Staff and visitors, including shipʼs crew, need to have some positive identification and present it each time they pass the gate.
  • Look for areas where people may hide close to the perimeter fence, such as bushes or adjacent buildings, and check these areas regularly.
  • Check for storm drains, which are often large enough to accommodate people, that cross the terminal boundary.
  •  Bury the base of fences in the ground to stop intruders from burrowing underneath. If possible leave an open area between the perimeter fence and the container stacks or vehicle parks so that intruders can be spotted.
  •  Check empty containers, especially if they are to be shipped empty, and seal both doors with barrier seals immediately after checking.
  •  Terminals may want to check loaded containers arriving for shipment. This is possible without opening the unit by using a portable Carbon dioxide (CO2) meter. Intended to have the fine probe inserted through the door seal, this will reveal the presence of people by the trapped exhaled breath in the container.
  •  Stowaways are usually desperate to get out of their own country and have possibly paid all of their life savings to a “middle-man” to get them to another country. The middle-man does not care what happens to the stowaways once he has been paid and has “arranged” passage. Desperate people take desperate measures, so be very cautious once stowaways have been discovered - always call the proper authorities.

Through Transport Mutual Insurance Association Limited and TT Club Mutual Insurance Limited, trading as the TT Club. TT Club Mutual Insurance Limited, registered in the UK (Company number: 02657093) is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated in the UK by the Financial Conduct Authority and Prudential Regulation Authority. In Hong Kong, TT Club Mutual Insurance Limited is authorised and regulated by the Hong Kong Insurance Authority, in Singapore by the Monetary Authority of Singapore and in Australia by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority. In the United States, TT Club Mutual Insurance Limited is approved as a surplus lines insurer in all states and is accessible through properly licensed surplus lines brokers. The registered offices are: 90 Fenchurch Street, London, EC3M 4ST.

Through Transport Mutual Insurance Association Limited, registered in Bermuda (Company number: 1750) is authorised and regulated in Bermuda by the Bermuda Monetary Authority. 

The UK VAT Identification number for Through Transport Mutual Insurance Association Limited is: GB 564 5244 35 and for TT Club Mutual Insurance Limited is: GB 564 3375 30. The Italian VAT Identification number for TT Club Mutual Ltd is: 03627210101.

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