Academic journal article Borderlands

Bordering the Sea: Shipping Industries and the Policing of Stowaways

Academic journal article Borderlands

Bordering the Sea: Shipping Industries and the Policing of Stowaways

Article excerpt

Despite the keen interest that critical scholarship has shown in migration as a form of border transgression, the itinerant figure of the stowaway has received surprisingly little critical scrutiny. This paper suggests that the policing of stowaways by sea merits greater attention. Following a brief discussion of the changing problematic of the stowaway, it focuses on one particular aspect of the governance of stowaways: the role of maritime insurance companies and shipping consultants who have made the prevention and resolution of stowaway incidents into a normal part of their business. A focus on the activities of these agents is merited because it allows for a fuller account of the policing of transgressive migratory practices and identities at maritime borders. But this focus also allows for a rethinking of certain key concepts within migration and border studies more broadly. First, it prompts us to revise what we understand by 'securitization'. To this end the paper highlights the extent to which the securitization of the stowaway involves banal and technical practices much more than it does than the dramatic acts of threat construction usually associated with the term. Second, this case challenges us to rethink how we understand deportation. For it brings to light the way in which insurers and shipping experts constitute a private industry which specializes in the disembarkation and repatriation of migrants. A fascinating feature of this stowaway removal industry is that it must negotiate the return of its subjects not just into the political space of the world of states, but the terrestrial space of terra firma. Little theoretical attention has been paid to relationships of land and sea within migration governance. The policing of stowaways offers one site where this important theme might usefully be explored in future research.

As there is a great deal of dirty work that must be done on ship-board, the stowaways are pressed into service, and compelled to make themselves useful, if not agreeable. They are forced, in fact, to work their passage out, and the most unpleasant jobs are imposed upon them (Illustrated London News 1860).

There may be a temptation to put stowaways to work, and avoid the additional inconvenience of the crew guarding them, but this is strongly discouraged. Claims for wages and associated crew benefits are often reported to the authorities when the vessel next arrives in port. This can aggravate the problem and cause delays to the ship, including suspicion about how the stowaways originally entered the vessel (NEPIA 2001: 11).

The Problem of the Stowaway [2]

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines the stowaway as 'a person who hides in a ship in order to escape payment of passage-money, to get to sea unobserved, or to escape by stealth from a country. Hence also, one who steals a passage by aeroplane'. The OED is no doubt reluctant to bend its definitional activity to sudden and perhaps fleeting changes in language use, but there may be a strong case for amendment in this instance. True, this particular definition does reflect the fact that the world's air routes have become a space of clandestine mobility in recent years, often with the most deadly consequences for the clandestine traveller (Back 2003). But the OED definition does appear dated in a different respect. It fails to register the fact that the figure of the stowaway has undergone a significant transformation: if it was once about escape--the flight from a country, and an intolerable situation--today it is equally, if not more about the transgression of state borders. Stowing away has become a matter not just of escape but unannounced entry.

The longstanding association of the stowaway with the act of exit and the possibility of flight perhaps explains in part why the stowaway is a recurring figure in literature where 'he' (typically) appears as a heroic or roguish figure venturing forth into an limitless and unknown sea (von Zharen 2000). …

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