The ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB) has warned of new charter party fraud incidents and is advising that all counterparties be investigated before deals are carried out.
The warning comes after a case where a voyage charterer received payment for freight but failed to pass this on to the ship owner, who subsequently refused to deliver the cargo to the discharge port.
It involves a voyage charter for a high value project cargo loaded on board a vessel in the Black Sea bound for a South East Asian port.
Freight in full was paid to the charterer, a company allegedly operating from the Netherlands, but the charterer failed in turn to pay the ship owner.
The charterer and their broker can no longer be contacted and the ship owner is refusing to proceed any further until the money for the freight is received.
According to the ship owner, the bill of lading was released by the local port agents following an email purportedly from the ship owner. The cargo owner now has no realistic chance of taking delivery of the shipment.
The IMB was asked to investigate and found no trading record of the charterer. Their checks revealed that a long chain of brokers and intermediaries were involved in the transaction.
In the meantime, the charterer managed to convince the ship owner that the freight money was forthcoming and to begin the voyage. They did this by sending a document that apparently confirmed the freight had been remitted by the charterer.
However no money arrived after a few days and the owner contacted the Cypriot bank that supposedly issued the documents to check its whereabouts. The owner was told no such remittance had been made and the bank later confirmed the document was a fake.
The IMB says it is not unusual for a ship owner to accept such a document as proof the freight money is on its way, as the cost of delaying the voyage until payment is actually received is not practical in the real world of shipping.
This latest case highlights the risks of entering into transactions that involve many brokers and intermediaries who have not been individually checked before fixture negotiations begin.
It is not an isolated incident. The IMB also notes previous cases where the correspondence between principals in a charter party transaction had been intercepted by fraudsters, who then send a message allegedly from the ship owner requesting that payment for freight be made to a different bank account.
As the number of charterers and owners abandoning their responsibilities increase, the IMB highlights the role of its Chartering Experience Programme.
The service provides members with timely information needed in order to make informed decisions, and helps reduce the risk of dealing with companies with poor records, are habitual defaulters or already have debts.
“As seen in the majority of cases, once a chartering failure has occurred the options facing those affected are few and invariably expensive,” the IMB warns.
IMB, April 15, 2014