Policing stowaways: Realities and attitudes of frontline port police officers, customs officers and security officers

Research output: Chapter in Book / Report / Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review


A stowaway, according to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), is ‘[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 before it has departed from the port’ (2011: 4). Although there exists a significant amount of stowaway cases, there is a little to no (social scientific) in-depth knowledge on what motivates stowaways; there is definitely not comprehensive understanding of policing stowaways. Stowaways automatically are considered a (terrorist) threat as well as a financial risk for maritime security that causes unnecessary legal issues for the ports and shipping industry. However, instead of being a threat, stowaways usually are actually fleeing from threatening conditions of conflict, terrorism and war in their country of origin (Spijkerboer, 2007). They escape lethal circumstances, having to hide aboard where they can barely feed themselves, without hygiene, and sometimes they run out of oxygen or are exposed to toxins which results in their death. So, instead of being a threat to captain and crew, captain and crew are rather a threat to stowaways. When discovered, they are at serious risk, because of having to carry out unpaid, usually hard work, being deprived from acceptable accommodation, and barely receiving water and food. In some cases, they are even killed (Steglich, 1999). If they survive and finally arrive to their final destination, they risk getting repatriated. It is the frontline maritime and port policing actors who they engage with before disembarking to their safe haven. This contribution is based on a study of that frontline maritime and port policing of stowaways, for which access was granted to port police officers, security officers, and customs officers who work in the Ports of Hamburg and Rotterdam. Their role in Europe’s maritime border control has become and remains to be pivotal (Albahari, 2015). Due to populist mediatized and politicised rhetoric on terrorism, the lines between immigration, crime and terrorism have been blurred for the spectating European societies, also those establishing frontline border control for Europe, including the participants of this study. They are the ordinary people working together in extraordinary realities, dealing directly with pressures of securing around-the-clock transport against a kaleidoscope of insecurities. In this contribution, an account of their realities and attitudes will be provided by firstly contextualizing port security and which methodology was utilised for data gathering during fieldwork and analysis afterward for this study. Key findings then follows, after which this chapter will provide a discussion in which the findings will be contrasted with theory.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationImmigrants, Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Times of Crises
Subtitle of host publicationAn International Handbook on Migration and Refugee Studies, Management Policies and Governance
EditorsTheodoros Fouskas
Place of PublicationAthens
PublisherEuropean Public Law Organization
Number of pages33
ISBN (Print)9786185417116, 9786185417109
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021

Publication series

NameEuropean Public Law Series
ISSN (Print)2308-8648


Dive into the research topics of 'Policing stowaways: Realities and attitudes of frontline port police officers, customs officers and security officers'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this