Crew members report that bribery demands by port officials are becoming routine globally.

The BBC reported that seafarers were being asked for cash, cigarettes, food and drink in return for letting vessels in and out of terminals.

The Maritime Anti-Corruption Network (MACN) said it received 5,183 reports of “gratuities” being demanded in 2023.

Former master Stephen Gudgeon told the UK broadcaster he was once held at gunpoint after declining to provide cigarettes at an Asian port.

“They took me ashore at gunpoint and I was locked up. I was photographed and fingerprinted, and I was interviewed by two officials in an empty room with just a chair, which I was locked into,” he said.

“And it was when they said to me, ‘Would you like us to inform your family of your detention?’ that I really got quite worried.”

Gudgeon said he was later freed after being issued with a $1,500 fine for paperwork irregularities, which he claimed were fabricated.

MACN said an experience of this seriousness is still rare, but the number of corruption incidents is probably much bigger than reported.

TradeWinds reported last year that Stolt Tankers was adopting a zero-tolerance on bribery demands.

The company spoke out to highlight what it sees as increasing corruption in shipping.

The Netherlands-based chemical tanker owner published a note passed to one of its masters by a port official, demanding $600 to avoid a “deep physical inspection”.

Gudgeon said some seafarers are afraid to report incidents because they fear being blacklisted.

And officers face difficult decisions in terminals.

“If the company found out you’d done it, you could be in real trouble. They could discipline you for giving gratuities when they quite clearly state that you shouldn’t be doing it,” he said.

“But if you want the ship to be able to enter and leave port smoothly, then often these things happen.”

The ex-captain saw officials whose demands for bribes had been refused help themselves to food supplies on vessels.

MACN is working with governments in nine countries to tackle corrupt officials.

The International Association of Ports & Harbours is also involved.