In May, Europol – the European Union’s law enforcement agency – warned of a ‘new wave’ of irregular migration as border control measures, introduced to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, began being eased and criminal gangs ‘went back to work’ transporting vulnerable and economic migrants across international borders.

For transport companies, particularly those operating to the United Kingdom – the prime ‘destination’ for migrants – the threat of what TAPA classifies as ‘Clandestine intrusion’ into trucks has been a very real and growing threat for many years, and resulted in countless innocent victims – both drivers and businesses - having to suffer significant penalties after being targeted by people traffickers. 

So, what can you do to protect your supply chains?

A White Paper published this month by Imbema Transport & Logistiek, developed in conjunction with Transport & Logistiek Nederland (TLN) provides one of the most insightful guides so far on the problem, the M.O. of migrants, how to avoid becoming a victim, and what to do if you suffer an incident of clandestine intrusion …    

Stowaways: a difficult and expensive problem

It could very well be something that all lorry drivers fear: migrants trying to reach the UK in their trailer – otherwise known as ‘stowaways’. Who is responsible when refugees are found in your lorry? As a driver, you might simply happen to find yourself in a situation that has major consequences. In the UK, they may even consider you a suspect and fine you, which is something that drivers and, most definitely, shipping agents want to avoid. Not to mention the damage that stowaways cause because they are spending prolonged periods cooped up among the goods, causing cargoes to become damaged or contaminated. And, even if the cargo isn’t damaged, recipients are often refusing it, while insurers will only reimburse for visible damage. So, the costs need to be covered by the shipping agent. What’s more, shipping companies are also incurring damage caused by the shipment being delayed, while the transport company and driver will receive high fines for each stowaway found on one or more of their vehicles.

It is a difficult and expensive problem to resolve. Despite all the measures taken by ferry companies and authorities, the problem of stowaways still exists. And what is going to happen when more stringent customs checks come into force at the end of this year due to Brexit? As a shipping agent, this is something we need to prepare for. In any case, it is important to observe the UK Border Force Code of Practice at all times.

The problem

The problem of stowaways trying to climb onboard lorries has always existed, but in the past it only used to happen occasionally. All that changed in 2015 when an enormous flood of refugees began moving towards Europe.

Consequently, there has been a major rise in cases of illegal migrants trying to stow away on lorries from various seaports as they try to reach the United Kingdom. Putting their lives at risk, they allow themselves to be locked up in trailers and containers, often helped by human traffickers. Then there are all the consequences of doing this.

Migrants also regularly climb underneath lorries and hang onto the axle. At Calais, such incidents have caused threatening situations and huge delays. After the migrant crossing place in Northern France was closed at the end of 2016 - the notorious ‘Calais Jungle’ - the problem shifted also to other places. Increasing numbers of migrants now try to cross to the UK via Belgian and Dutch seaports.

Due to the more stringent checks in the ports, the problem is now increasingly shifting inland in the Netherlands. Migrants are trying to climb into lorries earlier on the route to port, such as along the A16, A15 and the A12. Stowaways are increasingly being detected in Gelderland and Limburg too, and drivers aren’t always aware of the risks in these provinces. In Belgium, many parking spaces along the motorways to the ports are closed, making drivers more likely to park in unsafe parking spaces. Once again, this makes it easier for migrants to climb into a trailer.

What methods are used by stowaways?

The individual ‘stowaways’

Individual ‘stowaways’ try to make the illegal crossing to the United Kingdom independently. They say that they plan their journey based on information obtained from friends and acquaintances. They book a cheap flight from, for example, Tirana to Amsterdam. The journey is easy because Albanians are allowed to travel through Europe for three months without a visa. Once they reach  the Port of Rotterdam, their next challenge is getting into the Hoek van Holland marshalling yard. Many are caught when they climb over the fences.

Many migrants stay in old bunkers until they find a gap in the fence or another shortcut. Some even jump into the Nieuwe Waterweg ship canal in order to swim around the electric fencing. These that access the Hoek van Holland site then cut open the tarpaulin of a lorry and climb into the cargo hold, resealing the cut from inside the vehicle. These types of stowaways are regularly apprehended, and, even though they say they planned their trips independently, there is often a people trafficking network behind these activities.

Organised people traffickers

A lot of the people trafficking that goes on is believed to be organised by the Albanian mafia. The Albanian mafia is inventive, always finding new places or ways to traffic migrants using lorries, rubber dinghies, sailing yachts or small aircraft. They operate like professional companies and leave few traces behind. For thousands of euros, you can travel to the UK in a refrigerated container or a sealed cargo hold. Migrants are collected from meeting points during the night by people traffickers and transported to parking places along motorways which are out of the view of security cameras. From these parking sites, they are put into the cargo hold of a lorry and transported to the United Kingdom. Because of the effective insulation, finding stowaways in refrigerated containers can be difficult.


What is being done to prevent stowaways?

In addition to the removal of the infamous Calais camps, authorities and companies have taken further measures to prevent stowaways over the past few years. For example, Eurotunnel has made considerable investments in securing its own site. 

Ferry companies

Ferry companies have put in place additional security measures too, such as erecting higher security  fences around the port site, introducing camera observation systems with 24-hour monitoring as well as cameras for filming the undersides of vehicles to counter so-called ‘axle-hangers’. Sniffer dogs and thermal imaging cameras are also being used to detect stowaways.

The Royal Netherlands Marechaussee

The Royal Netherlands Marechaussee makes random checks for stowaways at terminals using dogs, x-ray equipment and thermal imaging cameras. The use of dogs has proven especially successful in locating migrants. What’s more, as well as finding stowaways, the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee has taken an equally proactive approach to tracking down the people traffickers involved in these cases, working with authorities in other European countries and Europol to identify the ringleaders. Other important measures include checks at internal borders, at airports and at the external borders of the EU.

What measures are still required?

Despite such additional measures, stowaways continue to find ways to counter security checks. According to TLN, many more measures are still required. As the largest and most prominent lobby organisation in the Dutch road transport and logistics sector, it is keen to see:   

100% checks at seaports

On all vehicles bound for the UK – but more scanners are required in order to check every lorry. In these situations, it is also important not to cause a detrimental effect on the speed of logistics processes.


Shipping agents and drivers found to be carrying stowaways should no longer be treated like criminals and punished with high fines.

Secure routes & parking spaces

Routes to seaports should be monitored closely and secured. More secure parking places need to be created for lorries, equipped with ‘smart’ cameras able to detect suspicious movements. TLN points out that due to a shortage of secure sites, drivers are often forced to use poorly lit parking facilities with poor security along motorways, enabling stowaways to easily enter lorries.

Sharing information

Finally, TLN is asking investigation services to share intelligence on risky locations, as well as trends and other developments concerning stowaways, with the organisation, so TLN can warn their members in good time.


What can shipping agents do to prevent stowaways?

Migrants are becoming increasingly inventive and will do everything they can to travel illegally to the UK, hidden in lorries. TLN advises shipping agents to take their own precautionary measures to safeguard themselves against stowaways and offers the following advice:

1.Prevent risks and don’t stop en route

It is important to take adequate precautionary measures to prevent risks. Remember that a vehicle is most vulnerable en route to or from ports. Always take the shortest route and try not to stop en route. If you don’t stop, it will become difficult for migrants to board your lorry.

2.Using curtain-sider trailers is risky

Enclosed trailers are more secure than curtain-sider trailers because stowaways are frequently looking to cut open tarpaulins to board vehicles. If you still use curtain-sider trailers, use a curtain-sider system fitted with aluminium panels or develop ‘smart’ tarpaulins which give a signal when the tarpaulin is cut open.

3. TAPA TSR certification

As a shipping agent, take out a TAPA Trucking Security Requirements (TSR) certification. If you work according to the TAPA TSR Standard, the transport is safely secured.

4. Fit extra locks

Fit the rear doors of trucks with a Kiwa SCM approved security lock. An approved lock provides exceedingly strong security. Thieves are more likely to leave a trailer or container alone if it has an additional lock.

5. Crime training

TLN offers crime training, with a module on ‘how to prevent stowaways?’ This training counts towards mandatory periodic training of drivers (Code-95). Drivers learn how to carry out the checks and to use the ‘Vehicle Checklist’ correctly.

6. Code of practice

Check your lorry prior to departure and after every stop, and record this in the ‘Vehicle Checklist’. Before entering the British check zone, carry out a final check. This checklist proves to the UK immigration service that you have done everything you can to keep stowaways out of your lorry.

7. Tachograph

Print out the tachograph immediately if you have to carry on driving longer than permitted, or if you have exceeded the driving time to board the train or boat due to a delay at the terminal, or if it takes more time to find a secure parking space.

8. CO2 check

Make use of the CO2 check, record this and produce a supporting document to show you have allowed the check to take place.

9. No advertising

Do not place too many adverts on the walls of your trailer. If you put ‘Ferry Transport’ on your trailer, migrants will know that you are travelling to the United Kingdom and you will be increasing the risk of stowaways.

10. Advanced locks

With an electronic lock, you can decide for yourself when the lock is opened and by whom. It can also be used to read its history and prove that the doors of your trailer have remained closed.

11. Monitor your cargo

Whenever you ship high risk cargo, we recommend monitoring your shipments in real-time as this will enable you to report automatically, stating exactly what has happened to your cargo and whether it has been shipped under the agreed conditions.

12. Driving times and rest periods decree

Ensure that regulation 1 of the driving times and rest periods decree 561/2006 is available in the cab in different languages. This guideline explains that drivers may deviate from the maximum driving times occasionally under exceptional circumstances. This can be downloaded via this link


Can you insure yourself against stowaways?

The damage caused by ‘stowaways’ is increasing all the time for the transport sector, and it’s no longer simply a case of cut tarpaulins, forced doors or broken locks. Damage to cargo, damage caused by a delay to the shipment, and the loss of clients are all resulting in increased costs. A shipping agent takes out insurance against types of damage but there are also types of damage which cannot be insured and must be covered by the shipping agent at all times.

Damage to lorries

Damage to lorries can be covered through motor vehicle insurance, although this often involves paying an excess fee. This excess applies to each incident that occurs. So, if something happens 10 times, you will have to pay 10 times the set excess cost. Some insurers have a lower excess if you meet specific security requirements. What requirements these are depends on the type of goods being transported, so always ask your insurance company for its terms and conditions.

Damage to cargo

A carrier’s liability insurance covers damage to cargo, for which the shipping agent is liable, but this insurance doesn’t resolve all problems. Logistical liability insurances are based on the international CMR convention, which states when a carrier is liable for damage to cargo and the values involved. These values may be lower than the cost of the actual damage. In other words, the insurer won’t cover the total cost of the damage; shipping agents will also have to contend with excess charges per incident.

When stowaways have been sitting among cargo, the recipient often refuses to take delivery of the shipment, even when there isn’t any direct or visible damage, because they don’t know what’s happened to the items being shipped. However, insurers only reimburse visible damage, which means that the shipping agent has to cover the damage. Although a shipping agent is not actually obliged to do so, in such situations, they nevertheless feel forced to pay for the damage to remain on good terms with their customer or customers.

Damage caused by a delay to your shipment is not always included in your liability insurance, so please take this into account when taking out insurance. Damage such as the loss of clients cannot be insured.

Code of Practice

To help prevent stowaways on trucks, the UK Border Force Code of Practice includes a Vehicle Checklist containing requirements for drivers travelling to the United Kingdom. As a shipping agent, it is crucial to inform your drivers about the importance of applying the Code of Practice correctly because, otherwise, there are major consequences. The checklist must be completed by the driver after every stop. Filling it in afterwards is not accepted by UK Border Force. When the UK Border Force find stowaways in a lorry, both the driver and the employer can receive a maximum fine of GBP 2,000 per stowaway.

Accreditation system

It is crucial to implement the Code of Practice requirements and security measures in your company procedures. Shipping agents that have implemented the Code of Practice in full may submit an accreditation request to the UK Border Agency. All procedures must have been documented and it must be possible to prove this, such as by including the Code of Practice in the driver’s handbook and/or by discussing it during the work consultation and recording it with minutes.

However, accreditation does not mean that no more fines will be imposed. As a shipping agent, you should not receive a fine, but the driver isn’t covered by the accreditation system. This means that fines can be imposed on the driver. TLN stresses that accreditation must always go hand-in-hand with compliance with the Code of Practice. Accreditation does not serve as a replacement to the Code of Practice.

How do you simplify the Code of Practice?

Completing and keeping up-to-date Vehicle Checklists by hand requires a lot of time and discipline on the part of the driver. Current technological developments are making it easier and safer to check the vehicle and the security measures.

Tips when discovering stowaways

TLN stresses that if a driver suspects or discovers stowaways, they should not get out of their vehicle, but rather call the police emergency number straight away. After that, they should also call their company’s planner or security manager.

Useful contacts

Police, fire service, ambulance in the event of an emergency

Assistance can be sought in urgent situations in virtually all of Europe on


Calais and Northern France in an emergency

Call the police emergency number by mobile phone on



Call the Dutch police on

0900 8844

or from abroad

(0031) 343 57 8844

Report Crime Anonymous

Report crimes anonymously on

0800 7000

Is Brexit causing the number of stowaways to increase?

With Brexit, TLN is afraid of a potential extra stream of stowaways targeting ports and vehicles. Up to and including 31 December 2020, there will be no other customs procedures than there are now. Over the course of 2020, the new rules will become clearer, and we can be sure that things will change. New customs procedures will be introduced, and these procedures will cause major delays in the ports. This is expected to cause long queues outside of the gates of the ferry terminals, making it easier for stowaways to board lorries. Companies that do business with the United Kingdom need to prepare for this.

A sobering fact to focus your attention; 10,000 lorries arrive in Dover every day. If it takes 70 seconds to inspect each lorry, the waiting time will be around six days. Not every truck will be inspected but stowaways and people traffickers will see any disruption as a weak link to exploit.  


To download the full white paper, please click this link