Detection and removal of stowaways in South Africa

Stowaways on ships can present a cost and logistical problem for shipowners and ship captains, especially when trying to find a friend Port willing and able to accept and assist in repatriating these maritime intruders. Expensive and inefficient at the best of times, if a ship has to reorient itself and leave the trade, the financial hole grows rapidly. Enter Patrick Mooney, Owner, APEX Stowaway Detection and his team Jack Russell Terrieras they are instrumental in finding and eliminating stowaways in South African ports.

Before starting Apex Stowaway Detection, Patrick Mooney was a police officer in South Africa for 20 years, and as part of the K9 unit, he was widely exposed to calls on the ground to remove unwanted individuals from ships in port.

“I worked in Durban on the east coast of KwaZulu-Natal, and we often had business before 9/11 and the ISPS code, to pick up undesirables who had embarked illegally in the port.”

After September 11with heightened barriers and security measures, Mooney said “the problem has actually gotten worse.”

This was the impetus to start his business, first as a side gig and eventually as a full time business with a full crew of people and dogs.

“When I wasn’t working, I formed a German shepherd that I had to locate intruders on a ship,” Mooney said. At the time, he had little maritime or shipboard experience, so he had to create his own training grounds in old warehouses to teach dogs. At the same time, he began cold calling ships in the harbor and local port agents, eventually getting a bite out of a ship in Durban. “I went down and located six individuals hiding on this ship. The news started circulating and I started getting quite a few calls. (At the time) it was myself and two buddies who were also police officers helping out, and as far as I know, we were the first people to do so in a private capacity in the world. It grew and grew to the point where I resigned from the force in 2009 and formed APEX Stowaway Detection.

Today, he said business is strong, with around 100 staff serving 85 to 110 ships a month.

Image courtesy of Apex Stowaway DetectionThe problem

According to Mooney, the problem of stowaways that he and his colleagues see in South African ports They are not stowaways seeking to leave the country for a better life, but rather the province of immigrant groups who use the gambit as a business model, demanding cash payments before boarding repatriation flights.
“In the early 2000s, if we had a stowaway in six months, that was a big deal. But slowly the numbers increased,” Mooney said.

He said that once the stowaway has boarded and the ship is sailing with them on board, the ship now takes responsibility for that person, including finding a friendly and suitable port to repatriate the passenger. clandestine.

“There are the direct costs, which will relate to the repatriation of the stowaway: getting a speedboat, getting escorts, getting security, getting tickets, hotel expenses, hiring the company that will take care of them at the airport, getting them back through…these costs vary.”

He said that in 2015 a stowaway was repatriated and the cost at the time was $24,000; in July 2022, two stowaways were repatriated to Tanzania at a cost of approximately $123,000.

“That’s the first part of it; the second part is non-letting, Mooney said. “If a ship has stowaways and needs to divert, it won’t be rented out by charterers, because the safety and stowaways on board are the direct responsibility of the owners of that ship. Suddenly the owner covers now all these rental costs, whether it’s fuel, salaries, day-to-day running of the ship, and that’s where the costs are now becoming astronomical.

Enter the covid pandemic, where even seafarers assigned to the ship were not allowed to disembark in the majority of ports around the world, and the cost of a stowaway increases exponentially. “We’ve had incidents where stowaways have been on a ship for almost a year; it’s a serious problem for a shipowner,” Mooney said.

Image courtesy of Apex Stowaway Detection

Gone to the dogs

When Mooney started his business, German Shepard was the breed of choice, mostly because that’s what he worked with in the police department. “They’re smart, they learn fast and I knew the way we trained them.”

But the onboard environment, with a multitude of small spaces and below-deck heat that can easily go north of 100F in the area, was not optimal for the breed. “I soon realized that using a German Shepherd on board a ship was just not practical; the dog would be overheated within 15 minutes and he couldn’t work, plus we were having trouble getting them into the cargo hatches,” Mooney said.

Personally, he had a Jack Russell terrier, dogs bred to hunt foxes in packs, dogs that learn quickly, are very tough and can go for long periods of time without resting.

“We had a ship in Richards Bay where the team pulled up, they got the dogs out of the trailer, they put the harnesses on them and they went up the gangway, straight over the superstructure and started barking at an air conditioning duct,” where, after being cut off by the crew, two stowaways were found, Mooney said. “If they know they’re going to work, they’re completely excited. And they are practical. We make them make harnesses, they clip on the guys doing the searching. They can climb up and down ladders in cargo holds; they have a torch on one side and a Jack Russell on the other. I mean, that’s it. It’s that simple. It’s not rocket science. They are very reliable.

Different sizes and types of vessels require drastically different scanning patterns, as controlling a bulk carrier, for example, can take significantly less time than a vehicle-filled RoRo. That said, Mooney estimates that a team of 6 people and 4 dogs can clear a ship in two to three hours.

“We would board at least six to eight hours before this ship’s departure time, and we would say to the captain, ‘Once these stevedores are finished in the first hold, we will put our team there.’

Once sweeping is complete, seals are placed on all access points, hatches and manholes. “We will continue systematically as they finish (loading the ship) because with the shipowners, when they finish loading the cargo of the ship, they want it to leave the dock and leave as soon as as possible.”

As for the costs of his services, Mooney said they vary depending on the size of the vessel and the time his crew spends on board, but for a normal sweep, “you’re looking at around $600 or so.”

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