Former Naga Boat Prepares to Go to Vietnam

The former home to Naga Floating Casino is offshore and under repair for a voyage to Vietnam, despite an ongoing court dispute over rental payments.

The aging, hulking yacht, owned by the Singapore-based company Unicentral, unmoored from the dock behind the Hotel Cambodiana on Saturday and anchored at the confluence of the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers. It will soon travel to Ho Chi Minh City for repairs, said David Chanai­wa, an attorney for Unicentral.

NagaCorp Ltd, which rented the boat as a casino complex until last year, is currently wrangling with Unicentral over the payment of overdue rent. The complaint was heard in Phnom Penh Municipal Court in January 2003 and again in February this year, when an attorney for Unicentral failed to show up, said Long Dara, a lawyer for NagaCorp. The case is now headed for the Appeals Court, he said.

According to a court order, the boat can’t legally be moved from Cambodia until the dispute is settled.

“Nobody can move the boat until the court makes its decision,” said Michael Nen, from NagaCorp’s public affairs office.

Chanaiwa said NagaCorp had failed to pay money awarded to Unicentral in court and thus paralyzed the company’s management of the yacht.

“We are still trying to get the fee. Until then we cannot sell the boat or do anything with it,” he said. Chanaiwa refused to say how much money NagaCorp owed.

Boarded by a reporter Sunday, the boat was empty except for two mattresses and two guards, who said that a ship’s captain had been testing the boat’s seaworthiness. The guards said the boat will leave for Vietnam and then Singapore, but they did not know when.

Unpaid docking fees have also been a source of dispute between NagaCorp and the Phnom Penh municipality. Attempts to reach Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema regarding the boat’s move failed Sunday, as his phone was switched off.

The boat has been vacant since September, when NagaCorp moved its casino to the towering Nexus Naga Hotel, a $100 million complex still under construction. Riverside business owners say the empty boat is an eyesore.

“It’s better that it leaves than to stay here,” said Nitita Sapoun, manager of the Khmer Borane restaurant on Sisowath Quay.

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