The ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB) has recently seen a rise in the number of Nigerian oil frauds reported to them.
Over the first few weeks of 2011, several ship owners have reported receiving unsolicited messages from parties who claim to have been offered cargoes on board their vessels. Most often these cargoes are shipments of Nigerian crude oil that the senders say are being offered by mysterious middlemen. Owners immediately recognise these messages as fraudulent Ì¶ not least because the vessel is often in a different part of the world at the time.
Whilst ship owners are knowledgeable enough to disregard these messages, their vessel have sometimes been arrested by a victim of a fraud expecting the arrival of his cargo at a discharge port. Whilst the ship will eventually be released when the case is proved worthless, the owner will still pay in terms of time and cost.
IMB Deputy Director Michael Howlett commented: “The Bureau dealt with a number of these cases in its formative years. The recent upturn of these types of scam is of some concern, not least because there are very few practical measures owners can take to protect their vessels from being targeted in this manner. One step we advise is to keep written responses to a minimum, as in the past we have seen responses, sent in good faith, being adulterated to suit the purposes of a fraud scheme.”
The Bureau has also recently seen abuses of the chartering mechanism. Several ‘rogue’ companies claim to offer ships for charter (generally for the transport of crude oil.) IMB analysts quickly ascertained that the majority of the vessels offered had either been scrapped or were no longer operating under the names provided. In many cases the names and details of the vessel were taken from correspondence with the owners.
Scams of this kind can also affect banks, as fraudsters’ modus operandi often includes obtaining an advance fee, channelled through legitimate financial institutions. Banks can thus be open to charges of conducting improper due diligence, assisting fraudsters in processing the proceeds of a crime.
Mr Howlett continued “We urge companies tempted by attractive offers on commodities such as oil to undertake due diligence on all parties and to exercise extreme caution, particularly when an advance fee is requested. We urge banks asked to process such transactions to conduct background checks on all parties. For ship owners, it is important to report any such misuse of their vessels’ names to bodies such as the IMB. This allows data to be correctly recorded to help others avoid becoming victims of a scam. And if these cases do go to court the accumulated records can form compelling evidence against those seeking to manipulate the system.”