Report: Human Traffickers Exploit Crew Change Crisis to Trick Agents

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Published Nov 2, 2020 9:15 PM by The Maritime Executive

The International Transport Intermediaries Club, a specialist indemnity insurer for ship's agents and other maritime professionals, is warning that human traffickers are exploiting the crew change crisis in order to slip migrants across borders. 

According to ITIC, human traffickers are scamming ship agents by impersonating shipping company employees and making arrangements for a "crew change." In this scam, the trafficker approaches an agent and asks them to handle a change of crew, including booking travel and lodging. ITIC says that by operating through an agent, the trafficker gets a degree of legitimacy and a cover for their illegal operations. Often the ship agent will make the arrangements and then the "crew" - in actuality, a group of migrants - will simply disappear. 

“This is not a new issue but we have seen a re-emergence of this scam. Sadly, in the past some of our members have fallen for this scam and have been left with unpaid hotel bills and other expenses. More seriously, they can face fines from the immigration authorities plus liability for detention and repatriation costs if the migrants are caught," said Andrew Jamieson, the claims director for ITIC. “Coronavirus has impacted heavily on the process of crew changes and this appears to have shifted focus away from people smuggling."

Jamieson cautioned that agents should stay vigilant and conduct due diligence to ensure that their clients are legitimate. 

New scope for fraud

The scale and urgency of the crew change crisis provide ample cover for fraud. According to the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF), about 400,000 seafarers are overdue for a crew change worldwide, including many who are stuck working on board beyond the Maritime Labor Convention's legal limit of 11 months. ITF says that the situation is complex but ultimately lies with governments to resolve.

“We’re eight months into this pandemic now and governments need to find ways to refresh this workforce," said ITF inspector Tommy Molloy in a statement released Monday. “Crew changes are being blocked by a combination of some national governments, their red tape, charterers who won’t allow the diversion of ships, some flag states, some ship owners, local bureaucrats, and a lack of flights. This all adds up to make it difficult to get seafarers home and refreshed by new crew.”