Gov’t Orders Ship Registry Investigation

A government investigation of the Cambodian Shipping Corp­oration—ordered after a ship flying the Cambodian flag was seized by the French navy Thurs­day on suspicion of trafficking cocaine—may lead to the closure of the business, a government official said Monday.

Criminal allegations connected to Cambodian ships does more damage to the country’s reputation than is worth the $100,000 or so a year in revenues the registry pays the government, said the official, who works in an office connected to the registry and who asked for anonymity.

The seizure of about 100 kg of cocaine—officials say the ship, named Winner, could have been hauling as much as two tons of the drug—comes as only the latest embarrassment for Cambodia’s registry, which oversees a fleet of nearly 500 ships.

Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told Agence France-Presse the French government had sought permission from Prime Minister Hun Sen to board the vessel on June 7, one week before the raid took place, because the ship was in international waters.

“Five minutes after this request I spoke to our prime minister and he agreed and I responded,” Hor Namhong said.

Sinkings and accidents have caused headaches for the government in the past, along with occasional high profile disasters such as the discovery of a human trafficking operation last year that used a boat that had been registered with Cambodia.

The registry, founded in 1994, sells the Cambodian flag to shipowners to allow them to operate in international waters.

The investigation, announced by Minister of Cabinet Sok An shortly after the French navy completed their seizure of the Winner, could shed light on the private corporation that runs the Cambodia ship registration business, the Singapore-based Cambodian Shipping Corporation.

A 10-year contract signed in 1994 entitles the Cambodian Ship­ping Corporation to 85 percent of revenues, some of which goes to pay fees to the Inter­national Mari­time Organization. The government’s 15 percent stake of revenues amounted to about $100,000 last year, according to the official who works in an office connected to the shipping registry.

If that figure is accurate, the CSC made about $700,000 in revenues last year.

Also unclear is the number of ships currently flying the Cambo­dian flag. Government officials say that many registrations are for three or six month periods, and the registry changes every day. A government official said there are an estimated 500 ships on the list.

A copy of the list was not available.

CSC Chairman Khek Sakara could not be reached for comment on Monday, but he said last year that reforms were being made to the ship registry to avoid embarrassing public relations problems that follow the seizure of a Cambodian-flagged ship.

Hor Namhong told AFP the government was already keeping a watchful eye on CSC before the Winner was seized.

“This company had no transparency. That’s why we have to complete this job as soon as possible and any penalties will be enforced after the audit,” he said.

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