The alert follows the release of statistics showing that of 54 maritime administrations surveyed, more than 12 000 cases of forged certificates of competency were reported. The figures were reported to the International Maritime Organisation by the Seafarers’ International Research Centre, Cardiff University in Wales.
“These figures highlight the gravity of the situation. Around the world, vessels are being operated by people whose abilities have not been vetted,” warned Captain Pottengal Mukundan, Director of IMB.
“Ship owners and managers need to be aware of the widespread nature of the problem and take extra care to check for forged certificates when hiring crew. IMB can provide assistance in this respect.”
IMB is a division of ICC Commercial Crime Services, the crime-fighting arm of the International Chamber of Commerce.
It is the responsibility of ship operators to check the validity of their crews’ papers. If they are caught by the routine controls of the port authorities, they risk hefty charges for negligence.
But, according to IMB, improved security is really needed at the source of the frauds – often the issuing authorities themselves are to blame. Many of these frauds go undetected, but recently the Coast Guard office in Puerto Rico was reported to have issued nearly 500 suspicious certificates of competency. Cases like this would be avoided if certificates were re-examined before being issued.
IMB believes that curbing the production of fake documents would reduce the incidence of maritime crime. Fraudulent maritime documents are sought by criminal seafarers who do not want to be identified and by those who are unqualified and looking for work at sea.
Many of the phantom ships that set off to sea with a cargo and then disappear are sailed by crewmen with false passports and competency certificates. They usually escape detection by the port authorities.
In a recent case of a vessel located and arrested in South-East Asia further to IMB investigations, it has emerged that all the senior officers had false passports. The ship’s registry documents were also false.
Maritime employers who come across suspicious certificates should report them to the issuing authority or to the IMB who can also carry out large-scale investigations.