Figures show 458 stowaways, ship deserters and illegal seaport arrivals came to Australia in the past five years.
Figures show 458 stowaways, ship deserters and illegal seaport arrivals came to Australia in the past five years.
Some swim out to a container ship and clamber aboard; others spend weeks in a dark cargo hold. A few slip away when the ship has docked, heading to big cities where they can melt into the crowd.
The federal government may have "stopped the boats" but stowaways, ship deserters and illegal seaport arrivals from cruise, cargo and other ships continue to test its tough border regime.
Figures show in the five years to June, 458 stowaways, ship deserters and illegal seaport arrivals were known to have come to Australia.
They either hid themselves on a ship, slipped away from the vessel or arrived at a seaport but were not cleared for entry.
Data supplied to Fairfax Media shows 95 such arrivals last financial year, 67 of which were taken into immigration detention.
Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre executive director David Manne has represented several stowaways and ship deserters, including a 15-year-old Ethiopian boy who stowed away on a cargo ship from Africa which docked at Gladstone, Queensland. After legal wrangling he was granted a protection visa last year.
Mr Manne said the current global humanitarian crisis involves "people in unprecedented numbers … taking desperate measures to get to safety".
Mr Manne said the Ethiopian boy was looked after on the ship, and now lives in Melbourne where he is "kicking a soccer ball as well as any of his peers".
But not all stowaways are so lucky. In 2005, two African stowaways were discovered in a cargo hold filled with phosphate in a Perth-bound bulk carrier. Two fellow stowaways had died.
After several weeks of sailing, the crew reported hearing muffled voices and scratching on the metal hull and investigated.
The four had boarded in Morocco with just a few days' worth of food and water, thinking they could sneak off in a European port. The two survivors were repatriated after reaching Australia.
Gladstone Mission to Seafarers chaplain Russell Cunningham said ship deserters were usually seeking "a better life free from oppression and exploitation … escaping persecution on board could also be a motivator for some".
"From my experience they always head for big cities where they can get help to blend in, but usually always end up just being exploited and used as cheap labour on a building site or in a restaurant," he said.
In August a Turkish crew member was reportedly caught on a bus heading to Brisbane after failing to return to his ship at Gladstone.
In April a Chinese man also reportedly deserted ship at the same port and made it to Sydney, before handing himself in to immigration officials.
An Immigration Department spokeswoman said it "remains alert to any manner of illegal maritime arrival" and penalties apply for those who fail to comply with the rules.