Former Naga Boat May Become Cultural Icon

The empty yacht that for years catered to gamblers and revelers in Phnom Penh could be reborn as the capital’s premier tourist des­tination, said David Chan­aiwa, a consultant representing the boat’s Singaporean owner.

“I guarantee this vessel will be back in Phnom Penh and we will show how beautiful it is,” he said Monday. “This will be the main at­traction for tourists in Phnom Penh, and I think the government should support us in that.”

Chanaiwa would not say what the owner, Unicentral, plans to do with the 10-year-old boat, but said it will not be a casino but instead become an attraction “more in line with Cam­bodian culture.”

Vacated by NagaCorp casino operators last year, the boat was unused and inert until Saturday, when Unicentral moved it to the confluence of the Tonle Sap and Mekong River in preparation for a trip to Vietnam.

Chanaiwa said the boat needs a dry-docked inspection in Ho Chi Minh City in accordance with Cambodian maritime law and to allow the boat to be properly in­sured. He could not say when the boat would depart.

But the vessel’s stirring has upset NagaCorp and Phnom Penh municipal officials, who say that a case pending in Appeals Court over rental payment prohibits Unicentral from moving it.

“That ship should not be moved until the court case is over…. This is highly disrespectful to the law in Cambodia,” said one city official who requested anonymity. He said a Singaporean attorney re­tained by the municipality had contacted Unicentral about the boat’s imminent voyage.

The case originated in Singa­pore and has awarded Unicentral some $10 million in overdue rent and penalties, Chanaiwa said. Na­gaCorp, an offshoot of the Ariston Sdn Bhd group in Malaysia, must pay a $40,000 penalty for each day the boat is not returned to Sing­a­pore, dating back to a March 25, 2002 verdict in that country.

Michael Nen, a spokesman for NagaCorp, declined comment on the case.

Chanaiwa said he continues to act as Unicentral’s attorney de­spite an ongoing dispute in Ap­peals Court contesting his membership in the Cambodian Bar Association. The bar suspended Chanaiwa a year ago for alleged misconduct.

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