‘Flag of Convenience’ Ship Seized by Australia Waters

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.

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