Thieves Stole Panama Canal Toll, Shipper Says

     LAS VEGAS (CN) — Modern shipping piracy occurs in many ways, but a French shipping company might be the world’s first victim of desert-based piracy on the high seas.
     France-based international steamship firm Compagnie Maritime Marfret in U.S. District Court says that, as its ship, the M/V Rossini, prepared to traverse the Panama Canal in April, hackers duped the company into sending the $225,325.12 passage fee to a bank account in Henderson, Nev.
     Marfret says it normally pays Panama Canal passage fees for its ships via Panama-based agent CB Fenton, which routinely processes vessel passage payments around the globe.
     While arranging its passage payment via emails with Fenton, Marfret says no one at either company was aware hackers were monitoring their emails.
     Just as Marfret was about to send its payment to Fenton, it says it received a fraudulent email message claiming to be Fenton and using a email address.
     The real Fenton’s email address uses, according to a lawsuit Marfret filed Tuesday in Nevada Federal Court. The named defendants are Natural Waters Inc., Samuel Rowe and Larry Lucas.
     Marfret says the defendants “created a domain name nearly identical to Fenton’s, and accurately sent copies of the email to all of the various individuals at Marfret that were copied on the earlier, legitimate transmissions, so as not to raise suspicion.”
     The email told Marfret to send the passage fee to a Bank of America account in the United States, which is owned by Natural Waters, a Nevada company.
     Nevada Secretary of State Records indicate Natural Waters filed its domestic corporation application with the state on Feb. 11, with Lucas listed as president and director and Rowe named as treasurer and secretary.
     An April 30 U.S. trademark registration for Natural Waters lists its corporate address as 81 Broken Rock Dr. in Henderson.
     Google Earth search results show that address is a residential property situated along the Legacy Golf Club’s par-five fifth hole.
     The allegedly fraudulent email to Marfret, which it received on April 26, provided an address in Miami, said the Bank of America’s address was in New York, and identified the Natural Waters’ bank account, the shipping company claims.
     Marfret says its accounting department did not detect the deception and paid the fee via Western Union, which deposited the funds in Natural Waters’ Bank of America account.
     The transfer went through on April 29, and Marfret says it learned on May 3 that the “remittance instructions to Bank of America were bogus” and immediately asked Western Union to recall the funds transfer.
     The company’s bank, the Bank of New York Mellon, told Bank of America on May 3 that the $225,325.12 deposit was not intended for the Natural Waters account and should be returned to Marfret’s account, but Bank of America said it had to await authorization from its accountholder, according to Tuesday’s lawsuit.
     Instead of authorizing a refund, Marfret says the accountholder told Bank of America “the matter has been resolved. Remitter was supposed to cancel the request to recall this payment.”
     “The fact remains that the funds had been fraudulently diverted to the Bank of American [sic] account and there was no cancellation of the recall notice whatsoever,” the six-page complaint states.
     Marfret seeks actual and compensatory damages exceeding the amount of the stolen $225,325.12 passage fee, plus exemplary and punitive damages for fraudulent misrepresentation and conversion.
     The shipper also wants Natural Waters, Rowe and Lucas enjoined against transferring or using its money.
     No contact information could be found for Natural Waters, Rowe or Lucas.
     Las Vegas attorney Joseph G. Went of Holland & Hart, who represents Marfret, was not immediately available by telephone on Thursday.

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