Private Ship Registry Did Not Monitor Compliance

The privately-operated International Ship Registry of Cambodia (ISROC), a South Korea-based company that owns the rights to register foreign vessels under the Cambodian flag, told ship owners last year that it was not monitoring their observance of international maritime laws, and that it was their own responsibility to ensure compliance.

The European Commission (E.C.) warned the Cambodian government in November last year that it had to ensure that Cambodian-flagged vessels stopped plundering the oceans and comply with international laws and regulations, or face a ban on seafood imports from Cambodia.

The ban has now been approved by the E.C. and is expected to come into force in the coming weeks.

A month after the November warning, ISROC posted a circular on its website—which has been offline since the weekend—stating that the number of Cambodian-flagged vessels using fake certifications at international ports was not decreasing, and warned ship owners that this was against the “Reformatory Clean-Up Policies” of the Cambodian government.

The ISROC then states that it is a ship owner’s “Own Obligations and Duties” to comply with international laws, thus absolving the South Korean company of responsibility for illegal actions by ships flying the Cambodian flag provided by the company.

In a statement announcing the proposed ban on Cambodia, the E.C. said the Cambodian “Flag of Convenience” was allowing foreign vessels to evade taxes and international laws due to the absence of monitoring by Cambodian authorities.

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

About 150 vessels are currently registered under Cambodian flags, according to Lloyd’s Register of Shipping. About 25 of those ships do not list a name for their owner, and the majority appears to be owned by businesses in South Korea, Russia and China.

Chhuon Molyroth, ISROC’s country representative in Phnom Penh, declined to comment Tuesday when contacted by telephone.

“I don’t know anything,” Ms. Molyroth said, before hanging up.

ISROC’s offices on Monivong Boulevard were deserted Tuesday, and the company’s website has been taken down since Friday. Several emergency contact numbers listed at the company’s headquarters in Busan went unanswered Tuesday.

In 2012, newspaper reports revealed that a ship owned by a company in China, but registered under the Cambodian flag, had transported missile-launching vehicles to North Korea.

A decade earlier, in 2002, after Cambodian-flagged vessels were found to have been trafficking weapons technology and cocaine, the government stripped the Singapore-based Cambodian Shipping Corp. of is right to register ships under the Cambodian flag.

A year later, ISROC paid the government $6 million to buy the rights to operate the ship registry, according to Seng Lim Neou, an official with the Council of Ministers, who is in charge of cooperation with ISROC.

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