The shipments, which all appear on documentation purportedly issued by the same Non-Vessel Owning Common Carrier (NVOCC), were all for containerised cargoes of garments and footwear out of Indian ports. Enquiries conducted by the IMB quickly ascertained that these shipments had never taken place.
IMB enquiries found that although the nominated vessels called regularly at the ports of loading, they were not at the ports on the specified dates. Furthermore, although the container numbers detailed on the Bills of Lading related to actual containers, these containers were at different ports around the world on the dates on the Bs/L, as parts of entirely different consignments.
IMB Director Pottengal Mukundan commented: “These documents are very convincing, as they feature genuine vessels that call at the named ports and use containers that are in circulation. It was only when third-party verification was sought from the physical carriers and port authorities that it became apparent that these shipments had not taken place.
Perhaps most worryingly, these documents appeared on the stationery of a well-known NVOCC that has always carried out shipments without reported problems. It has subsequently taken robust steps to stop future misuse of its name.
”When the supposed NVOCC was contacted, it was quickly established that it had not issued the documents in question, and IMB was able to inform its member that they were not genuine. It later emerged that the NVOCC regularly gave blank Bills of Lading to its customers for them to complete in at their will. It would appear that in this case blank Bs/L fell into the hands of individuals who realised that they could exploit a loophole and defraud unwitting customers and banks. In this case, the NVOCC has reported the incident to local authorities and a criminal investigation is under way.”
Mr Mukundan continued: “NVOCCs and freight forwarders play an important part in international trade. It is important that safeguards are in place to ensure the security of blank Bills of Lading, and there are systems in place to track them if they are misused.”
As part of its service to members, IMB conducts due diligence on all trade documents, including Bills of Lading, and seeks independent third-party verification to provide an extra level of confidence in transactions.