Joining Crew or Illegal Immigrants?

Fraudsters continue to involve ship agents in the smuggling of illegal immigrants by pretending they are joining crew. In the past twelve months over twenty approaches to ship agents have been reported to ITIC.

The Club has made warnings on this subject a regular feature of The Intermediary, and has also issued two loss prevention circulars. As a result most ship agent Members have either realised themselves that they are being approached by crew smugglers, or (if they are not sure) have asked the Club to check out the so-called shipowners. However, some agents experienced very near misses, and one had already addressed a letter to an embassy authorising visas by the time the Club confirmed it was yet another fraud; the “crew” had to be stopped at the airport from boarding a plane for the agent’s country.

The majority of the attempts by crew smugglers over the past twelve months involve a company in Chittagong, Bangladesh which describes itself as “one of the leading shipping companies in Bangladesh”. Another feature of recent reports is the targeting of agents in South American countries. ITIC Members in Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Peru and Uruguay have reported approaches to the Club.

Targeting Africa

Ship agents in Africa may feel that they are not likely to be the target of crew smugglers but this not the case. Sometimes the object of the fraudsters is solely to make money from the illegal immigrants and there is no intention to get them to the country of their choice. In 2001 twelve “crew” arrived at Khartoum, Sudan to join a non-existent ship – the cost to the ship agent of maintaining and repatriating them came to US$21,000. In late 2002 two ship agents in Africa, one in Douala, Cameroun and one in Port Gentil, Gabon, were asked by the same bogus US company to attend joining crew from the Indian sub-continent who were allegedly joining a fish factory ship. Thirty three crew arrived at Douala and six crew arrived at Gabon. As these countries are not usually targeted by illegal immigrants, neither of the agents realised they were dealing with crew smugglers until substantial costs had been incurred. The thirty nine “crew” had to be maintained and repatriated at the agents’ cost. The thirty nine illegal immigrants had bought their own one-way airline tickets and had each paid US$1,000 to the smugglers. Whether they were seamen deceived into thinking they were getting a well paid job on a foreign flag ship, or were illegal immigrants hoping to board a plane for Europe or North America, is unknown. All that is know for certain is that the crew smugglers earned US$39,000 and it cost the agents US$50,000 to get rid of them.

Relaxing your guard can result not only in expense (immigration fines, hotel bills, repatriation costs, etc.) but also in a massive waste of time and effort. The former is insured by ITIC, but the latter is not. Agents must continue to be vigilant. If in doubt ask the Club to check the status of new principals asking for crew changes or to send their staff to discuss “future business” with you.

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