The Cambodian Shipping Registry has forwarded information about ships under its jurisdiction to the US Embassy in Phnom Penh as the US government investigates possible terrorist links to ships flying “flags of convenience,” such as Cambodia’s.
Khek Vandy, one of the founders of the privately owned Cambodian registry, said the company’s Singapore headquarters has been in contact with a US official in Phnom Penh regarding the names of some shipowners who use the Cambodian flag to gain entry to the world’s waterways.
“They mentioned to us that terrorists might try to use the Cambodian flag,” Khek Vandy said.
International treaties require ships to fly the flag of a sovereign nation to indicate where the boat is registered, a measure meant to establish the rule of law at sea. A shipowner may register their ship with any nation, and Cambodia has drawn some 500 ships to its registry since it was founded in 1994 because it offers cheap registration fees and a unique Internet registration service.
The US has stepped up its investigation of ship registries worldwide as it considers possible methods used by terrorists to launch attacks on the US mainland. More than 51,000 port calls are made in the US annually by foreign flagged ships, according to US government figures.
A panel of experts told the US House of Representatives’ Armed Services Committee last month that Cambodia is among a handful of registries that should be monitored for use by drug and gun traffickers.
“It is apparent that we have virtually no idea who owns or who controls a number of these ships,” committee chairman US Representative Duncan Hunter said at a recent meeting.
An official with Human Rights Watch told the committee that a ship named the Anastasia was used last year to deliver 636 tons of Russian arms to Angola; international scrutiny of the incident led the shipowner to rename and reflag the ship with Cambodia. It is now called the Emir.
“Illicit arms traffickers rely on these weak controls,” Alex Vines, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch, told the congressional panel.