TT Talk: Be alert to stowaways

Be aware of stowaways

Many newsfeeds currently are covering mass migration arising from the war in Ukraine, following the tragic pattern from other conflict zones over years and decades. The freight supply chain, however, continues to be exploited by layers of criminal barons facilitating the unfortunate 'underbelly' of economic migration.

Stowaways have been a problem for the maritime and freight transport sector for many years. The risks have not diminished through the Covid-19 crisis; in certain places they have increased. For example, Dutch authorities reported a 20% year-on-year increase in the exploitation of trucks for the illicit movement of people in 2020.

Recent years have seen an increase in the smuggling of people, particularly into Europe, as migrants flee civil wars, persecution in their own countries, or seek improved economic opportunities. Many governments have responded with stricter immigration controls and enforcement - often resulting in more devious clandestine activity, as criminals exploit increasing desperation.

Pandemic impact

In 2020 the Dutch gendarmerie force, the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee, tasked with illegal migration prevention reported a 20% increase in stowaways found on freight trucks. Alerted to the danger, checks on 'climbers and axle hangers' was intensified, resulting in a rise in the number of arrests. The intended destination of the majority of attempted migrations was the UK.

TT Club has noted, however, that the stowaway phenomenon is a persistent threat across the global freight supply chain. While the risk is greatly heightened for road movements, all transport modes are vulnerable.

The stowaway phenomenon is a persistent threat across the global freight supply chain.

The circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic may have restricted travel and led to enhanced border control measures, however this risks being a temporary distracted focus. Indeed, according to a recent report from the European Migrant Smuggling Centre (EMSC), part of Europol, migrant smugglers have been increasingly using small boats to cross river borders and the English Channel. The report also reveals there has been a shift 'to hiding of irregular migrants in concealments in freight vehicles and cargo trains that still move across the borders'.

Criminal hierarchies

Criminal organisations behind such smuggling are difficult to penetrate and use sophisticated resources to facilitate this inhumane trade. One of the simplest ways to move migrants across international borders remains to hide them in legitimate freight transport. In order to combat the criminal threat and the aspirations of the migrants, the varied stakeholders in the supply chain - shippers, forwarders, shipping lines and ferry operators, road hauliers, ports, cargo depots and terminals - need to be constantly vigilant.

Legitimate actors in the supply chain are faced with diverse risks, from simple human safety (workforce and migrants), through cargo deterioration, confiscation and penalties, to reputational damage. The level of risk may vary from mode to mode. For instance, access to rail infrastructure and inland waterways may be more restricted, controlled or simply challenging for migrants, while 'curtain-sided' road trailers are the most vulnerable, particularly prior to a ferry crossing. Where migrants are discovered within packed CTUs, their well-being is priority. They are generally victims of criminal activity and are inevitably at risk.

Where migrants are discovered within packed CTUs, their well-being is priority.

After that, there are frequently concerns over the condition of the cargo, which are especially sensitive when it is intended for human consumption. Compounding contamination with damage gives rise to large potential exposures. It is vital in such circumstances for the interested parties to notify their liability insurer at the earliest opportunity and engage an independent expert to inspect the goods. There have been many cases where receivers assert that a consignment is a total loss, simply because migrants have been discovered. However, when expert cargo inspections are undertaken, it can frequently be evidenced that damage and contamination has been restricted to a small proportion of the goods, reducing costs and unnecessary disposal.

Risk mitigation

It is fundamental to provide workforce training and support (particularly to drivers) on how to avoid risks associated with stowaways set out in documented procedures. This should be supported by the deployment of robust security devices to secure the vehicle, goods and cargo spaces, ensuring that their use is understood by the workforce. And, of course, any mitigation programme needs to be monitored.

While freight containers may be harder for migrants to access from a physical perspective, generally requiring a greater level of complicity and sophistication in the criminal logistics, once there, detection can be more challenging, particularly with temperature-controlled units.

It is important to consider the actual routing of units in order to assess the risks thoroughly. Generally, the precautions that can be taken against opportunist stowaways in freight containers are many; there are only a few places where checks for stowaways can be made and ensuring that the export terminal has implemented appropriate security measures and carried out checks could be sufficient. However, similar assurance needs to be gained from any transhipment terminals.

Maritime, rail and road terminal facilities inevitably offer opportunities for stowaway concealment. Effective security will make the intentions of the stowaway, or their criminal assistants, much more difficult to realise. Robust security at terminal locations will include sound and secure perimeter fences, secure or continuously guarded access points, and monitored CCTV systems. Where possible, lighting should be linked to security systems (eg. passive infrared controls triggered by movement).

Maritime, rail and road terminal facilities inevitably offer opportunities for stowaway concealment.

Without seeking to be exhaustive, TT Club's StopLoss advice on Clandestine Migration outlines a number of recommendations. Constant vigilance and awareness are the only ways to deal with the issues stowaways pose. It is prudent to implement effective due diligence in the selection and monitoring of any contractors on whom you rely to conduct required checks, since you may remain liable for any penalty and/or loss incurred.

If you would like further information, or have any comments, please email us, or take this opportunity to forward to any others who you may feel would be interested.

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Peregrine Storrs-Fox

Risk Management Director