Stowaways: the hidden problem in ships docking at Mombasa port

Mombasa port

A ship arrives at the Mombasa port. A stowaway arrested on a ship heading to India risks a long jail term after pleading guilty to being on the vessel illegally.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Two Tanzanian suspected stowaways have been arrested onboard a ship at the port of Mombasa.

The two, aged 56 and 39, were found hiding in the container section of the Ex MV Lofty Mountain on Wednesday evening and removed. The ship arrived on Monday.

The vessel had sailed from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, but the two were found after the vessel docked at berth 11 in Mombasa, said Mark Mboloi, a representative of the ship’s local agent, Inchcape Shipping Services.

“We are in liaison with the Tanzanian consular representative in Mombasa to confirm their nationality,” Mr Mboloi said. 

“In collaboration with the local agents of the ship, we hereby [undertake] to bear all the cost of landing, caring for, and ultimate repatriation of the said stowaway.”

The interception of the two comes a few weeks after a man identified as Salim Mwinyi Mananda was arrested in the MV Elreedy Star as he attempted to sneak out of Kenya for the second time in the past three years. 

Mr Mananda, 38, had hidden in the ship for 16 hours as the ship prepared to sail to India. 

Court documents show that Mr Mananda was on the ship without the consent of its master. He told a Mombasa court that he was fleeing Kenya for a better job opportunity in the Asian country.  

“My intention was to travel to a foreign country to look for greener pastures,” said. 

The court will rule on the case on October 6. If he is found guilty, he will join dozens of young people in prisons who attempted to leave Kenya by boarding ships from Mombasa. 

In April 2019, Moes Ali was arrested on the MV Hoegh Brasilia, a car-carrier vessel that was sailing to India from Mombasa.

Mr Ali told a Mombasa court that he thought the vessel was travelling to Europe. 

He pleaded guilty to the charges of failing to report his departure to the nearest Immigration office and hiding in the ship.

And in 2020, Mohamed Bwika, Stephen Malenya, Fredrick Gitari and Mnyika Maganga admitted to sneaking aboard the cargo ship MV Ken Sea hoping to get to the United States, where they hoped to get jobs and establish new lives. 

Several stowaways have succeeded in sneak out of Kenya and were reported to have arrived at their destinations unnoticed.

Marine expert Andrew Mwangura said the number of stowaways boarding ocean-going vessels from Mombasa is growing at an alarming rate. 

“Kenya's youth unemployment rate stands at 65 percent, among the highest in the world, thus making young people try to sneak out of the country in search of greener pasture,” said Mr Mwangura. 

The majority of stowaways are found onboard bulk, container and general cargo vessels. Car-carriers are also over-represented in the stowaway data compared to other vessel types. 

Mr Mwangura said stowaways want to remain undetected so they chose places that are rarely inspected by the ship’s crew. They also come equipped with enough food and water to last them a long time.

They can also pay bribes to port workers or crew to gain access to the jetty. 

Stowaways can access ships as stevedores or using faked supplier documentation before hiding in the ship containers. 

They can get inside shipping containers before they are loaded and create false walls within them to evade detection, Mr Mwangura said.

These can stretch from side to side and from top to bottom. The false wall will be painted in colours that match the rear wall of the container.

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