STOWAWAYS

One of the toughest problems I had to control aboard ship was with non-paying, undocumented passengers called stowaways. They sneak aboard in one port, and do not reveal themselves until the ship has left port. In some recent cases they hide in a container for the duration of the voyage, and do not leave until their container has been unloaded in their port of destination. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service can only guess at the number of people who enter the country in this manner. When stowaways are caught while aboard ship they must be kept locked up, treated in a humane manner, and turned over to the I.N.S. when entering the United States. They then fine the ship, and repatriate the stowaways to their country of origin, along with an escort at the vessel's expense. I have found stowaways in containers, hiding under pumps, under the ship's gyro compass, over cable-ways in storage areas, even in the hawse-pipe. In my career at sea, I only failed to find stowaways once. It cost me my job as chief mate for about a year, during which time I sailed as chief mate for another company. It is amazing the number of places people can hide aboard ship. It's a grown-up version of hide and go seek before leaving those ports with a bad reputation for stowaways. You must pick up the gangway, sometimes proceed to an anchorage, and call all hands to search the vessel. It is a time consuming and costly job, and you can never be sure when and where they might board.

One summer I was chief mate on the Ashely Lykes, loading in the Great Lakes for ports in North Africa and the Red Sea. We were loading a lot of construction equipment for Port Sudan. In Milwaukee we loaded earth moving equipment. Because the stevedores in the Sudan did not know how to handle this cargo, I had to learn how to drive the bulldozers, graders, backhoes, and shovels that we loaded. The officers had to pay special attention on where to attach the lifting slings, so that we could move them safely. It was enjoyable work for me, something different from the bags of rice, drums of salad oil, and containers we usually loaded. We sailed from Milwaukee to Cleveland, where we loaded diesel locomotives on deck. We had to disassemble them, and put the trucks (wheels) under deck, and the rest of the locomotive on deck. The largest pieces were 50 tons, the capacity of our largest derricks working in tandem. It would be a tough job to unload them, but a job I would enjoy.

We arrived a month later in Port Sudan, and docked shortly after arrival. We had to hire a gang of longshoremen, even though the crew would handle the cargo themselves. It was a port regulation that local labor had to be hired, even though they could not do the work. Lykes had estimated it would take us ten days to unload all of the equipment. I doubled up the crew so that we could work day and night shifts. I was really proud of myself when I could get everything running, and move it in the hold and on the dock. I had to drive everything away from the side of the ship where we landed it, and park it in a storage area. Finally came the locomotives. We had to take the trucks out of the hold first, and put them on the railroad tracks that ran along the dock. I was really happy to see that the wheels were the right fit for the railroad gauge. After getting the wheels on track, we used our heavy lift booms to unload the locomotives. We had to be very careful to line up the pins below the locomotive into the "trunions" on the trucks. After assembling the locomotive on the railway, we had to use a bulldozer to push the locomotive down the track away from the ship, where someone would finish the wiring and assembly. Then we had to turn the ship around, putting the other side next to the dock, so we could unload the locomotives from the other side. We were all tired, but after 4 days of work, we were almost done. Everyone, especially the passengers, would be happy to leave that port. We unloaded and assembled the other locomotives as before, without incident. Then came a snag. We had a grader on deck that came in two pieces, a two wheeled cab and motor, and a two wheeled truck-scraper body behind. They attached with a giant pin to make a four wheeled road scraper. It was beyond the ability of our cargo handling equipment to hold the two pieces in line to where the pin would fit into the holes that attached the pieces together. They could not be moved from alongside the ship unless they were assembled. The port authority would not let us sail if we blocked the dock with the cargo. We were all tired and wanted to sail. The captain was able to convince enough people to let us sneak out of port, leaving the scraper on the dock, if we sailed at 2 A.M. We quickly put the scraper on the dock, got the pilot and linemen on the dock, and left. We were all thrilled to get back to sea and get some much needed rest.

At 5 A.M. the steward called me, something unusual. I was really groggy from just a few hours of sleep, but he held a stowaway by the scruff of the neck. I had forgotten to make the stowaway search in my rush to get away from Port Sudan. It turned out that we had two others as well. The three of them said they were from Asmara, Ethiopia, and had been looking for a ship that would take them out of the Red Sea. They had travelled from Assab to Jeddah, and then to Port Sudan on a Greek ship, but said that the Chief Mate there made them work too hard. We tried to make arrangements to land them in our trip back through the Suez Canal, but we could not bribe the proper people there. President Sadat had just been assassinated, and everyone in Egypt was afraid to help. We wound up taking them back to New Orleans, and landing them in irons with an escort from the I.N.S. I later heard that the I.N.S. turned them lose in the Frankfurt airport. I'm not sure what Germany thinks about stowaways landing there, but apparently they aren't as strict as the U.S. I'd heard of a German captain being prosecuted for testing his CO2 fire extinguishing system in a cargo hold, and later "discovering" that a number of stowaways were hidden in the hold, and had perished during the "test".

My career advancement suffered because of this incident. I had expected some praise for cutting 5 days off the projected schedule, which saved the company a great deal more that the cost of repatriation of the three stowaways. Unfortunately for me and Captain Cook, the company did not see it in that light.