Gov’t Denies Selling Ship Registry

A government spokesman on Friday threatened legal action over a Cambodia Daily report written in November that told how the rights to register foreign ships under the Cambodian flag were sold to a South Korean company.

A story by Radio Free Asia in which a reporter said that Prime Minister Hun Sen “confessed” that the divide between the rich and the poor could not be reduced, was also reprimanded. 

If “unprofessional” reporting continued, the government would sue reporters, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said at a press conference.

“Every case [article], we keep a record; if they don’t change [the reporting], we will take legal action,” Mr. Siphan said.

About 10 local journalists who attended the press conference at the Council of Ministers were provided copies of two articles of the penal code.

Under article 502, insult, the court can sentence perpetrators to a maximum prison term of six days, while article 494, existence of incitement, is punishable with up to two years in prison.

“Foreigners have their embassy…but local people, if we do something wrong, will be jailed,” Mr. Siphan said.

He said the November Cambodia Daily headline “Government Sold National Ship Registry Rights” was factually wrong.

“This headline is a complete exaggeration and lacks professional journalism,” he said.

In November, the European Commission released a report that the Cambodian government had no means to monitor the activities of foreign-owned ships flying the Cambodian flag as a South Korean-based company was handling the registration of ships for the government.

“Cambodia has failed to discharge the duties incumbent upon it under international law” which stupulates that countries had to assume jurisdiction over each ship flying its flag as well as the crew, the Commission wrote in November.

Ship owners choose flags of convenience to avoid complying with national laws and regulations and to avoid taxes.

“This fleet represents a significant fishing capacity not submitted to an effective monitoring system, which cannot permit Cambodia to fully ensure its flag State responsibilities,” the report concludes.

As unmonitored, Cambodian-flagged vessels were found to be plundering the oceans, the European Union imposed a ban on all fish and seafood imports last month.

The International Ship Registry of Cambodia (ISROC), the Busan-based company who bought the rights to register ships under Cambodian flag for $6 million in 2003, was working in partnership with the Cambodian government, said Seng Lim Neou, who heads a committee in charge of cooperating with ISROC.

The headline, Mr. Lim Neou said, was wrong, as the government had not sold the rights to register ships, but chosen a company to handle registration in exchange for $6 million over 10 years.

“The government has chosen a company as a representative for the registration instead of the government, but under review of an inter-ministerial committee,” Mr. Lim Neou said.

He insisted that the word “sold” was inappropriate.

“It’s not selling the rights, It’s a choosing [of a company], because the company has experience,” Mr. Lim Neou said.

ISROC was set up to handle Cambodia’s flags of convenience in 2003, after a different private company lost its rights in 2002.

Mr. Siphan on Friday told local reporters the authors of the article should take responsibility for their mistakes.

“[Ms.] Denise Hruby wrote with Khmer assistance…these persons should come to sit and listen,” he said.

Asked by phone why the authors were not invited to the press conference, Mr. Siphan hung up.

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