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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Angkor flag still flies for some

The Tallas travels on the Bosphorus in 2010. A former chief officer of the vessel said yesterday that the ship’s transponder was turned off on 2014 trips to Crimea. Wil Weijsters / ShipSpotting.com
The Tallas travels on the Bosphorus in 2010. A former chief officer of the vessel said yesterday that the ship’s transponder was turned off on 2014 trips to Crimea. Wil Weijsters / ShipSpotting.com

Angkor flag still flies for some

Despite the fact that foreign ships have been barred from operating under the Cambodian flag since the end of August, online tracking data yesterday indicated that four internationally owned vessels are still flying the Angkor ensign.

In August, the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation (MPWT) announced that it was drawing to a close the Kingdom’s 22 years of offering regulation and taxation-wary mariners a “flag of convenience” with which to avoid falling subject to the laws of their home countries.

The scheme garnered international notoriety for the Cambodian flag over the years as it came to fly over cocaine seizures, human-trafficking busts and sanctions violations. Ships sailing under the flag were also more than three times more likely to be detained for failing basic safety checks than the global average.

Most of the hundreds of ships worldwide that had been flying the Cambodian flag responded to the August moratorium by re-registering in other countries.

However, as of yesterday, five Cambodian-flagged vessels were still broadcasting from their AIS transponders – a piece of technology akin to GPS, required by international law on all vessels over a certain length or tonnage that broadcasts the ship’s position. Only one of the five is Cambodian.

Spokespeople for the MPWT could not be reached yesterday, but have said previously that the Cambodian flag’s retirement has been publicised by the International Maritime Organization.

A spokesman for the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) was unconvinced yesterday that Cambodia had the will or resources to see the moratorium properly enacted. “The ITF remains sceptical of Cambodia’s plans, and indeed ability, to remove all FOC vessels from its flag,” he wrote in an email.

Meanwhile, evidence is mounting that a Cambodian-flagged vessel may have violated EU sanctions on trade with Crimea.

The owner of the Tallas is widely understood to be Crimea-resident Nuradin Asadov, whose identity is shielded by a UK-registered partnership whose only members are offshore companies registered in Belize.

However, while the partnership may have been designed to shield Asadov, it may also have brought him afoul of EU sanctions on trade with Crimea brought into effect in mid-2014, which all but prohibit EU businesses from conducting trade with the peninsula, annexed by Russia earlier that year.

Aleksey Tokatly was the Tallas’s chief officer for several months starting in October 2014. Yesterday, he told the Post that the Tallas made several trips between Turkey and the Crimean port of Yevpetoria during his time aboard. Each time they approached Yevpetoria, the owner ordered them to turn off the AIS transponder.

“The ship must be invisible in some locations,” Tokatly said.

Informed of this yesterday, the ITF spokesman was severe. “The deliberate turning off of a transponder isn’t just an offence against the law of the sea, it’s also a clear signal that something deeply suspicious is planned, often with criminal intent,” he wrote.

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