Scammer Allegedly Selling FSM Flags Of Convenience, Bogus Seafarers Certificates 12/26/16（Pacific Islands Report）
Fake IDs being used to illegally work on ships around the world
By Bill Jaynes
POHNPEI, Federated States of Micronesia (Kaselehlie Press, Dec. 7, 2016) – Someone whose identity remains to be determined is currently peddling fake FSM “flags of convenience” to international vessels and bogus Seafarers Identifications to seafarers who are using the identifications to illegally work on ships traveling around the world. Whoever is doing it is using the FSM’s seal to make their activities appear to be legitimate. The FSM, however, does not issue flags of convenience to any international vessels, and has no contract with anyone allowing them to represent the FSM.
It appears that someone has made money from the scheme but it has apparently not been the FSM government. The FSM has not authorized the activity.
Jason Elymore, Operations Manager of the Marine Division of the FSM’s Department of Transportation, Communications, and Infrastructure (TC&I), said that the FSM only issues Seafarers Identifications to FSM citizens. He said that the FSM’s vessel registry is a closed registry for vessels operating in FSM waters that have a corporate presence in the FSM.
The FSM is not the first country to have been hit by such a scam. In 2015 Samoa also fell prey to someone issuing similar fake documents on their behalf. Samoa’s Attorney General did not respond to our request for information on those incidents.
Ships carrying a flag of convenience, in essence, become a part of the nation of the flag they carry, subject to the rules and regulations of that nation and not that of the owners’nations. They can use the flag to get around regulations in their home countries. For instance, some European nations would not allow crew members from Syria. A flag of convenience from a country that does not restrict crew composition would allow a ship owner to skirt a regulation that exists in their own country.
The flags have been abused by unscrupulous ship owners and by countries with lax monitoring of the vessels they flag. International organizations have been working for a long time to require countries that provide open ship registries to share liability for the ships they register that “behave badly”, but it hasn’t happened yet.
Two years ago, the Ping Da 7, a huge refrigerated vessel flagged by Kiribati slammed into the reef in Pohnpei. The owner simply walked away and Kiribati had no responsibility. It is still sitting on the reef and still contains thousands of pounds of ammonia refrigerant.
In 2010, the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig exploded spilling millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The oil platform was flagged by the Marshall Islands which means that it was supposed to be responsible for safety inspections, but RMI was not held responsible for the terrible accident.
A Seafarer’s Identification and Record book is a seafarer’s identity document issued for the purpose of providing the holder with identity papers for travel to or from an assigned vessel. It also provides the holder with a continuous record of his/her sea service and contains the Special Qualification Certificates, which specify the particular category or rating which the holder is qualified to serve. The Seafarer’s ID is not a passport but in some cases can be used in lieu of a passport or in combination with a passport when a seafarer is joining an outward bound vessel. In many countries, visa requirements are waived for holders of a Seafarer’s ID when entering a country.
The bogus Seafarer IDs being illegally issued by someone on behalf of the FSM is causing a bit of a foreign relations stir.
Whoever is issuing the bogus documents made a mistake when they decided to collect money for the fake Seafarer’s Identifications they seem to be printing themselves. They didn’t even get the color right. The Seafarer’s identifications that the FSM issues to its citizens that look like passports are black. The bogus Seafarer’s identifications that have been provided to seafarers from around the world are the color of blue that matches FSM passports.
The FSM’s Seafarer Identification book stock is housed at TC&I. That stock is all accounted for.
“People are traveling around the world with those fake Seafarer Identifications,”said Leo Lekopwe, a consultant for the Marine Division of TC&I. “It’s a big problem.”
“When I came back to work I learned that several ships with ‘FSM flags’had been detained in ‘foreign ports’because they were flying an FSM flag”, Lekopwe said. “But the FSM Department of Justice is looking into it,” he assured us.
The FSM Department of Justice had no comment other than to say that the matter is under review.
FSM, unlike Palau and the Marshall Islands, one of the world’s largest ship registries with approximately $6.5 million in registration fees returned to the RMI government last year, doesn’t have a law that allows for “flags of convenience”. No one, not even the FSM government itself has been authorized by law to provide flags to vessels from other countries. Our laws simply don’t allow for it.
Further, whoever is collecting fees for the fake documents has apparently not submitted a single dime of that ill gotten money to the FSM coffers.
Local attorney Martin Jano said that he met with a man he identified only as “Professor Sharma” or “Captain Sharma,” who he was introduced to by FSM Secretary for TC&I, Lukner Weilbacher. He said that he was asked if he could help Sharma to obtain a foreign investment permit to issue ship registries. Having handled the intricacies of foreign investment permits many times, Jano agreed to represent “Professor Sharma”and began the process of applying to set up the company.
He filed applications, purchased a local post office box on behalf of his client and rented office space. Meanwhile someone also set up a website for a company called “Micronesia International Ship Registry”or, alternatively “Micronesia International Ship and Business Registry”on the .FM domain. The website offered a variety of services including corporate registration, international ship registry, and Seafarer’s Identifications.
Jano says that the FSM Department of Justice notified him that they must take down the website and close the post office box and their office space since the company did not have authorization to pursue a ship or a business registry.
He says that though they had paid for a full year of rent for the office space, the yet to be established company complied. He claimed that no one ever even set foot in the office before they were told they had to shut it down. “We lost money before we could even get started,”he said when he called our office in response to our inquiries about the company’s activities.
After the website on the .FM domain was taken down, someone created a new website at www.misrbc.com, a site that will not load in the FSM but will load elsewhere. As recently as today, that site was still available in the United States and was still offering ship registry, seafarer identifications, and corporate registrations along with a host of other services. The website claims that, “Micronesia International Ship & Business Company Registry is administering maritime and offshore company registry for government of the Federated States of Micronesia.”
Currently, Micronesia Registrations Advisors has the only contract with the FSM to provide corporate registration services for captive insurance and other types of registrations. CEO Stephen Baker said that MRA was approached about the idea of providing ship registration for the FSM but felt that something wasn’t quite right about it and declined.
According to a brochure prominently featuring the seal of the FSM, Micronesia International Ship Registry had a booth in Dubai at the International Shipsuppliers& Services Association’s convention from October 31 through November 2 to promote services that the FSM Department of Justice had already told them to stop offering. The brochure listed the J&T Building in Kolonia Pohnpei as its address. It also listed two Pohnpei cell phone numbers as contacts. We dialed both numbers. One of them has been disconnected. The other went to the personal phone of Renwick Weilbacher who said that the company must have made a mistake in listing his phone number.
With the brochure was a business card for a Captain Inder Jit Singh also featuring the FSM seal. The card said that Singh is the Director for Maritime Security. It says that the FSM flag is the “Flag of Responsibility and Prosperity.”It doesn’t mention that FSM doesn’t have an open registry and that the activities they were promoting were completely illegal in the FSM.
Several “LinkedIn”pages continue to offer the services that MISRBC says that it can provide. The .com website itself doesn’t use the seal of the FSM Government but several of the company’s LinkedIn pages do. Encircling the seal is the name of the non-existent company. Another of the yet to be established company’s LinkedIn pages contains a photo of a Seafarer’s Identification book that viewers seem to be led to believe was issued by the FSM. It is blue in color instead of the black booklet that the FSM issues to its citizens.
One of the MISRBC or MISR LinkedIn pages says that Padmanabhan Krishnan is the Director (Admin) of MISBR. The still operating MIRBC website lists him as the “Regional Maritime Administrative Manager (for maritime administration & Safety Management)”.
Early this week, Mr. Jano said that he was shocked to learn that someone was issuing fake documents and said he had previously written Professor Sharma instructing him that he should cease and dismantle any operations of the proposed company because the permit had not yet been approved. He assured us that “Professor Sharma”was taking steps to stop promotions for FSM ship registry and Seafarer’s IDs but that it would take time. He said that he expects that everything would be taken down by January.
He also said that DOJ does not have an attorney that specializes in maritime law so they consulted an attorney in Fiji who is an expert. That attorney analyzed Title 19 of the FSM code and concluded that it did not bar an open registry.
Nonetheless, Jano said that Professor Sharma has fully cooperated with the Department of Justice and has provided the department with a full accounting of his activities.