The website of the International Ship Registry of Cambodia (ISROC), a private company based in South Korea that bought the rights from the government to register foreign vessels under the Cambodian national flag for $6 million, is no longer operating.
The shutdown means that foreign vessels now cannot be registered within 24 hours—as the ISROC company boasted last week—by simply filling in an online form that only asks for basic information such as the vessel’s name, gross tonnage and an email address of the owner.
It was not known Monday if ship owners can still register their vessels through ISROC’s Busan-based office.
Chhuon Molyroth, ISROC representative in Phnom Penh, as well as ISROC contacts in Busan, could not be reached for comment on the website shutdown Monday.
Last week, the European Commission (E.C.) announced a proposed ban on all seafood imports—the first ever—from Cambodia as the government had failed to address illegal fishing by Cambodian-flagged vessels on the high seas.
The E.C. had warned Cambodia a year ahead of the ban announcement, but found that a private company had the sole authority to distribute Cambodian flags to foreign ships, and that the government had failed to fulfill its responsibilities as it had no means to monitor the activities of any vessels.
Seng Lim Neou, a former secretary of state at the Council of Ministers who is still in charge of a committee that works with ISROC, claimed last week that only six foreign vessels are flying Cambodia’s “Flag of Convenience,” though international ship registries showed that about 150 vessels were doing so.
Before the website was taken down, ISROC stated on its website that there were no restrictions for obtaining a Cambodian flag for a vessel.
“With above merit of Cambodia flag, which can offer affluent and convenient choices to ship owners than other flags in the world, ISROC operates Cambodia ship registration system with no restriction on ship owner’s nationality & ship’s tonnage and crews,” the website touted.
In case vessels were found to be complicit in human trafficking or the smuggling of weapons or drugs, ISROC reserved the right to strip vessels of their Cambodian flag. ISROC, however, made no mention of illegal fishing, which is what prompted the E.C. to put Cambodian seafood on its list of banned countries.
ISROC had bought the right to sell Cambodian flags in 2003, after its predecessor, the Cambodian Shipping Corp., was stripped of its authority following revelations that they had given the Cambodian flag to vessels complicit in trafficking arms from North Korea as well as drugs.
Under ISROC’s authority, according to the E.C., Cambodian vessels were found to be complicit in plundering the oceans’ fish stocks.