The opposition CNRP on Friday called for a full investigation into the government’s management of the national ship registry, which a Council of Ministers official revealed on Thursday was sold to a private South Korean company for $6 million.
The demand for an inquiry follows the announcement on Tuesday by the European Commission (E.C.) that it would impose a ban on all seafood imports from Cambodia because the government had failed to monitor any of the about 150 ships registered under the Cambodian flag.
Such ships, flying the Cambodian “Flag of Convenience,” which allows foreign vessels to evade taxes and international laws due to the absence of monitoring by Cambodian authorities, were involved in pirate fishing on the high seas, the E.C. said.
“This fleet represents a significant capacity not submitted to an effective monitoring system which cannot permit Cambodia to fully ensure its flag State responsibilities,” the E.C. wrote.
CNRP chief whip Son Chhay said he was “disgusted” that the Cambodian flag had been sold to a South Korean company, which had registered ships complicit in plundering the oceans.
“There should be a proper investigation…it is harming the country’s reputation and they have to stop with this practice, it’s bad for Cambodia,” Mr. Chhay said.
“They sold the Cambodian flag for a bad purpose,” he said.
“This company should no longer operate—only Cambodian ships should carry the Cambodian flag. And the foreign ships, their operations are not just illegal fishing; we know only half the story. They are dumping rubbish in the oceans, and smuggling drugs and weapons,” Mr. Chhay said.
Since the International Ship Registry of Cambodia (ISROC), a private company based in Busan, bought the rights to register
foreign ships under Cambodia’s flag, Mr. Chhay said that he had made several inquiries to find out
more about the $6 million fee reportedly paid by ISROC to the government.
“When I asked, they said the money is used to pay for some expenses, but it’s never in the budget,” Mr. Chhay said.
Former Council of Ministers secretary of state Seng Lim Neou, who is still in charge of a government committee that cooperates with ISROC, could not be reached for comment on Friday.
Reacting to the E.C. ban on Thursday, Mr. Lim Neou said that Cambodia could not be expected to monitor vessels registered to the country by ISROC.
Mr. Lim Neou said the Busan-based company had paid the government $6 million for the rights to register ships, a deal that was struck in 2003 and continued to this year.
He did not say if the $6 million fee was paid in a lump sum or in installments.
Cambodian-flagged vessels have long had a reputation for flouting and breaking laws in international waters, and have been complicit in illegal fishing, the crossing borders illegally and trafficking drugs and arms.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said Friday that he did not know how the $6 million from the ISROC deal was spent. He also did not know if Cambodian had any control over what ships could fly the national flag.
“They sound like pirate ships to me, and they should be held responsible,” Mr. Siphan said.
However, he said that the government should not be held accountable for any illegal operations of ships flying the Cambodian national flag.
“It’s just the flag,” Mr. Siphan said.
“But when there is a problem, it’s the ship owner and the captain who are liable, not the government.”