How To Identify Fake Or Fraudulent Shipping Agents And Institutes?
Disclaimer: This article is not an effort to tarnish image or reputation of any shipping company/ agent or of the shipping industry as a whole. It only attempts to educate and inform the people in the industry or those who are planning to enter the same. We have been receiving a lot of emails lately regarding such fraudulent cases in the industry and we think creating awareness about the subject is the best way to address the problem. Thank you all for your support and faith in Marine Insight.
Approximately about a decade back, the shipping industry saw a major boom which lead to the rise in demand of seafarers around the world, resulting in sudden shortage of maritime officers and ratings.
Back then, the maritime industry was way more isolated from common landlubbers than it is now. Many institute and shipping companies saw this major demand and supply gap which resulted in rise of Maritime Institutes and Shipping Agents which helped candidates to embark on sailing careers by providing them the required training.
Whenever there is rise in opportunities, a few unethical entities always take advantage of the situation and this is exactly what has happened in the last 5-8 years. A number of frauds have occurred to seafarers and they continue to do so by certain manning agents and maritime institutes.
Students who are keenly interested having a seafaring career are afraid of these fraudulent activities thriving in the shipping industry and its proof can be seen from hundreds of comments posted in this one article and on several platforms online-
Unfortunately, shipping authorities are yet to take a solid step against these culprits; which has already resulted in hundreds of candidates getting scammed and losing their precious time and money.
Considering the high number of emails we were receiving regarding such fraudulent shipping agents and activities, we decided to enumerate a few points which will help students and maritime professionals to be smart enough to differentiate between genuine and fake shipping agents/institutes.
For Maritime Institutes:
1 Check all the approvals obtained by the institute and provided by the particular country’s shipping authority. For e.g. in India, the maritime training institutes and courses providers must be approved by DG shipping and IMU (Check on their website). AICTE approval of the institute is also very important in case the candidate wants to apply for higher management studies in India.
2. Maritime institutes which provides courses approved by foreign authority needs to be screened properly. For e.g. there are many institutes in India, which are accredited by UK maritime authority and colleges to provide the required degree and seaman documents to seafarers. Before taking admission in any of such institute, do confirm the minimum approval requirements and crosscheck them with the approval/ accrediting body by sending a query mail or contacting their office through phone.
3. Check the shipping authority eligibility requirement (physical, medical and technical) and compare it with the institution. If the institution is only functioning for minting money and not serious about placements of students, their selection criteria will be lenient than the one provided by the maritime authority.
4. Check the management and founder members/ core institute of the college or academy. If the Founder/ Management level of college or institute has member/s with a doubtful reputation, the intention of the institution cannot be trusted.
5. If you are interested in any institute and keen to take admission, the best way of getting genuine feedback is to go to that institute for fundamental background check and talk to the current students. You will get a clear picture of the placement records and worth of the institute.
6. Avoid taking admission in those institute which are new/ doubtful and do not provide any clear approval documentation. If you encounter any of such fake institutes, do report it to the shipping authorities to help other students from falling prey to such fraud activity.
For Shipping Agents:
1 The other side of the coin (maritime institute) in the ship industry are the ship manning companies and agents. To legalize and streamline this sector, the shipping authority approve such companies and agent. For e.g. in India, a ship manning company has to be RPSL approved (i.e. they have Recruitment, Placement Services License). Still many cases have been registered against fraud agents and agencies that have taken money from job seekers for providing ship based training and have disappeared in thin air.
2. If you are in contact with an agent for ship based job, ensure he has a genuine RPS license. Cross check the approval in shipping authority websites.
3. To safeguard his/her fraud identity, agents may say the agency approval is under renewal. Never believe it and even if you feel the agency is genuine, wait for the authority to renew the license. The DG shipping in India never take more than 3 to 4 working days for renewal of RPS license.
5. However, having a company website, a letterhead and official email id is not a guarantee of genuine agency. An advance cheater can get all these genuine looking setup for a handful of money to lure more candidates. The best available way to differentiate is to crosscheck the RPS license. (Disclaimer: It is very difficult to gauge the motive of even an approved RPSL agency or agent which may cheat candidates for sake of easy money. As per Maritime Labour Convention Act, and mentioned by DG shipping, a candidate cannot be charged for onboard training from a company or agency).
6. It is worth noting that under the recently enforced Maritime Labour Convention 2006, crewmen are not meant to be charged a placement fee by Manning Agents. A fraud agent will demand money against the payment of a fee, variously called “Administration”, “Facilitation” or “Service” fees, or other such designations. Never ever pay such money.
7. With lack of jobs for entry level candidates, the students are desperate and are still willing to pay manning agents to get placed onboard for training. In such cases, never pay money in advance and understand what kind of company and ship you are going for. Take a written statement from the agency about the money involved and the kind of job they are going to provide. It is very important to understand what kind of service charges the agent/agency is taking from you. They may tell the candidate that all the money will be used for flight tickets, visas and work permit etc. (which technically will be paid by the company who is hiring you for the job), hence check for the type of ship you are getting on (coastal, offshore, foreign going etc.) and type of visa they acquire (tourist or work visa with duration of stay etc.). This will help in understanding the intentions of the agent and save you from the troubles you will face abroad in case the agent sends you to some other country to join a ship
8. As mentioned earlier, due to lack of openings for freshers, fraud agencies are taking advantage of the situation. These fraud agent/ agency try not to cheat one but several people. Try to get as much information as possible through social media and search engines. If you sense any doubt, go to the local police station (if the agent is from the same area as you are) or try to establish contact with police station where the agent is located to find out any previous complaint regarding the same.
9. Do not fall in trap against the claim that the agency will give in writing for providing 100% job placement when student approach them for maritime education and payment. The written statement from the company can be – Provide 100% placement to the candidate without mentioning the time frame or even the time frame is mentioned; they will also not be sure about which type of ship or company you will be placed. As mentioned in above point under Maritime Labour Convention Act, a candidate cannot be charged for onboard training from a company or agency hence idea of paying an agency/agent is itself wrong.
The shipping sector has been in the grip of these scams due to lack of job availability, which in-turn has been the result of hundreds of institutes made open producing thousands of fresh seafarer every year. There is no sign of recovery of the current situation and fraudulent agents/ agency are taking advantage of candidates who are trapped in this vicious circle. Only a detailed research and reporting of all such frauds can help to irradiate the problem from the roots.