IMB notes trend in fraudulent timber shipments

  • 29 July 2008

The ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB) has uncovered a series of spurious timber shipments, which allegedly originated in Southeast Asia.

The irregularites were found following routine due diligence checks on behalf of member banks. The Bills of Lading, purportedly for containerised shipments from Malaysia to North Africa and the Middle East, all feature the same supplier and carrier. The IMB quickly established however, that the stated vessels had not called at the port of loading around the stated time of loading. Additional enquiries indicated that the port of loading had no record of the stated cargo, nor could the respective cargoes be traced at the nominated discharge ports.

IMB Assistant Director Michael Howlett stated: “These recent examples indicate that fraudsters are producing documents that on their face and at first glance, appear like the genuine document. In these cases, the names of vessels used by the big liner companies have been used along with container numbers that would also appear to be owned or operated by some of the larger firms. A number of checks with third parties, however, indicated that it was simply impossible for the stated cargo to have been loaded on board the vessel as per the bills of lading presented to our member banks.”

In one of the examples, a list of container numbers was detailed on the bill of lading that were not recognised by the load port. Further checks indicated that the stated numbers do not conform to the industry standard and are therefore incorrect.

In another case, only three of the 20 container numbers listed were found to be genuine. Enquiries conducted at the load port established that they had no record at all of these boxes. Further enquiries would suggest that one of the three legitimate containers was making a trans-Atlantic voyage at the time it was allegedly loaded in Malaysia.

Mr Howlett continued: “Although the above cases involved a complex and persuasive set of supporting documents, a number of simple checks quickly alerted our members to their spurious nature. These checks save time and money for those with a legitimate interest in the trade.”

The IMB is advising members of the shipping and investment community to be alert to irregularities occurring in timber trades originating from this region. For those conducting business of this nature, the IMB strongly recommends thorough background checks on all parties and verification of all shipping and sales documents.