Going Dutch

Radio Netherlands interviews - Julia Mavropoulos

ITIC’s circular titled “Ship Agents Beware! The ship calling for a crew change may involve illegal immigrants“ was well received by the Club’s Members and has subsequently prevented several agents falling foul of people smugglers and the ensuing immigration problems.

The circular was also given a lot of press coverage, which culminated in an interview with the Club’s Claims Director, Julia Mavropoulos, by Perro de Jong of Radio Netherlands. The following is a transcript of that interview, which can be heard on Radio Netherlands website: www.rnw.nl.

Interview between Julia Mavropoulos and Perro de Jong

Julia Mavropoulos: What happens is that a ship agent very often gets an approach from a ship owner that he doesn’t know, asking him to take care of a call of his ship in the ship agent’s port for a crew change. This is how the industry works; you don’t necessarily deal with people you know. So what they are asking the agent to do would be to send a letter that the ship owner can take to the Embassy, lets say the Dutch Embassy in Egypt and they would take along a letter saying that these people were going to join a ship in the Netherlands and then visas would be issued.

When the crew arrive they either disappear from the airport or they disappear from the hotel that they are placed in. There is no ship, no ship owning company and they are not crew, it’s just a way to get illegal immigrants into a particular country.

Perro de Jong: Is it clear who is behind these types of scams?

Julia Mavropoulos: Well there are various people, the worst one is someone who is based in Piraeus but we understand from our investigation that he is not Greek. The first notification we had was from a Dutch company in 1989 with this problem and the most recent one we had was from a Canadian company two weeks ago, and it’s all the same person.

Perro de Jong: But why hasn’t anything been done about this in those 13 years?

Julia Mavropoulos: About five years ago, we have an office in Greece and they found out who this person was and where he was operating from, this man was using the same telex number for about 6 years. The local police were notified but there was very little that they could do without someone swearing out a complaint against them because the offence was committed outside Greece.

Perro de Jong: So what can shipping agents do to distinguish between real legitimate and bogus companies?

Julia Mavropoulos: I think that they can check with us first of all. We had one instance where an Irish ship agent came to us because it sounded very suspicious that 5 people were coming to Ireland, when in fact they then wanted to get on an aeroplane to come to England. We then found out that the ship that was supposed to come had been scrapped three months before and that the company, which appointed them, which in this case, is a company from Bangladesh, had actually been the subject of circulars by the Canadian Immigration Authorities. This is another pointer for ship agents, if they don’t have regular telephone numbers and if their cell phones are not an office telephone number, then this would be a pointer that all is not well.

Perro de Jong: Did you see any increase in the number of smugglers?

Julia Mavropoulos: I think it has been fairly steady for the last 5 years. We keep thinking that it’s going to stop, but it never does. I don’t think it will. There are always going to be people who want to be taken to another country where life will be better.

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