An armed Australian patrol vessel escorted a Cambodian-flagged ship suspected of fishing illegally in Australia’s southern territorial waters to the capital of Tasmania on Saturday, according to an Australian Customs Service statement.
The 76-meter Cambodian-flagged ship, which was manned by a 31-member crew of Chilean, Peruvian, Ukrainian and Spanish sailors, is currently under investigation by the Australian Fisheries Management department, the Saturday statement said.
Specific allegations had not yet been made against the Cambodian “flag of convenience” vessel’s crew Sunday, however, officials are looking for evidence that the ship was illegally fishing in Australia’s sub-Antarctic territorial waters, where highly-valued Patagonian toothfish are endangered due to overfishing.
The boarding occurred in waters about 1,200 km south of Hobart, the Tasmanian capital, after the Cambodian government gave its permission for a high seas inspection on the boat, the statement said.
On Sunday, a spokesman for the Australian Embassy said the embassy “welcomed the strong cooperation it received from the Cambodian government in providing agreements for Australian authorities to board the FV Taruman.”
Seng Lim Neov, secretary of state for the Council of Ministers, which oversees shipping activities, said Sunday that he did not have a formal report of what the ship was carrying or what the result of the Australian government’s initial inspection turned up.
Critics say that the controversial “flags of convenience” offered by Cambodia and about 30 other nations, most of them developing countries, allow shipping operators to bypass strict regulations in their own countries in order to register vessels cheaply and easily in flag states with lax regulations.
Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay said he was “not surprised” at allegations that a Cambodian FOC ship is under suspicion of being involved in illegal activities.
“Strict laws in their own countries drive them to come to register in our country where there is loose control,” he said.
The International Shipping Registry of Cambodia, a subsidiary of the South Korean-based Cosmos Group, took over the running of the shipping registry in 2002, when Cambodian ships were at the peak of their renegade reputation under privately-owned Cambodian Shipping Corp.
The government fired the Cambodian Shipping Corp following a high-profile scandal in which a Cambodian-registered freighter was caught by the French Navy in June 2002 with a haul of cocaine. The CSC was frequently accused of registering unseaworthy ships and dealing with unscrupulous operators.