IMB investigates false bills of lading

  • 2 November 2011

ICC's International Maritime Bureau (IMB) is warning banks and shipping operators of a rash of false bills of lading in the Arabian Gulf area and South East Asia.

Several recent cases involving fraudulent Bills of Lading point to a recurring problem with cargo aboard dhows and barges under tow in the Arabian Gulf area and South East Asia.

IMB Assistant Director Michael Howlett explained: “The use of barges and dhows is a very common method of transport in both these regions and facilitates a significant volume of trade. These vessels tend to call at very small and remote ports, often consisting of no more than a jetty and a warehouse. Recently, difficulties have arisen in verifying whether cargoes arriving at the ports have actually been unloaded.”

The IMB has discovered a number of instances where high value cargo, such as electrical goods and other finished products, has gone missing. These wares were said to have been loaded aboard and barges in small ports in the United Arab Emirates.

IMB investigators have uncovered bills of lading supporting this, but remain suspicious that the bills themselves are false. Verifying the authenticity of the bills has proven difficult, with many of the agents in these small ports being hard to identify and contact.

Through its wide reach of contacts in these regions, the IMB has been able to establish that in a number of cases, the goods failed to arrive at specific ports. In some cases, the goods were never unloaded, even though the cargo was clearly booked onto the dhow or barge.

IMB investigators are acting under the assumption that freight forwarders in the area are being coerced into issuing false bills of lading at the behest of their clients.

Mr Howlett added: “The IMB wishes to make banks in particular aware of this problem, as they are the most likely to bear losses in such cases. We are urging financial institutions to take special care when providing documents for payment that involve a combination of high value cargo and small or unfamiliar ports. Banks should take extra precautions, particularly if the freight is pre-paid.”

Anyone uncertain of the nature of a port or the authenticity of bill of lading documents is encouraged to contact the IMB for assistance.