Letter: A place for stowaways

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From Mr R. G. Milburn

Sir: I was shocked, but not surprised, by Raymond Whitaker's article "Life terms for the stowaway massacre" (11 December). During June and July this year, I travelled as a passenger on the container ship Contship Atlantic from Felixstowe to Karachi.

At that time the ship also had a stowaway, from a container, on board. He had travelled from Karachi to Bombay, Felixstowe, Hamburg, Antwerp and back to Karachi again. A journey of some 65 days' duration. Due to the integrity of the German officers he had been well treated, if confined.

I observed his treatment by a multiplicity of bureaucrats on the way. He was interviewed, photographed and even fingerprinted, but no one permitted him to land. The only practical care he received on shore was from the Felixstowe Seafarer's Centre, which clothed him. The crew were anticipating a passenger for life!

Political and economic migrants will not disappear just because we wish it. The only long-term solution is to make life more worthwhile for them at home.

Meanwhile, we need to develop a protection mechanism for our seafarers. Nine stowaways can be a real hazard on a ship that might only have two crew on duty at certain times of the day. Might I suggest that we develop an automatic right of landing stowaways at the vessel's next port of call, followed by repatriation to their port of embarkation at the expense of that government. At least the problem can then be returned to where it belongs - political debate - rather than providing continuing dangers to the lives of sailors and even to the lives of stowaways.

Yours faithfully,

R. G. Milburn

West Wickham, Kent

12 December