Despite sharp criticism over its shipping registry, Cambodia still plans to seek
entry to the International Maritime Organization's "white list" at a London
meeting scheduled for May 15. The white list identifies those countries that the
IMO feels have met internationally recognized training standards.
Secretary of state at the Ministry of Public Works and Transport (MPWT), Ahmad Yahya,
said his office had prepared a series of answers to queries from the IMO's evaluation
panel ahead of the 75th session of the organization's safety committee.
"Cambodia needs to do everything it can to protect it's reputation," he
said of the process.
Ministry officials have made efforts to have Cambodia approved since the country's
accession to the Standard of Training Crews and Watchkeeping (STCW) convention in
June last year. White list entry would help to legitimize Cambodia's role as a ship
registry, but a number of criteria must first be met.
The IMO has sought clarification on a number of points including Cambodia's non-implementation
of quality standards and the absence of regulations to address fraud.
However Cambodia's efforts to shed its 'flag of convenience' (FOC) image received
a severe blow recently after the International Transport Federation described the
country's ports as a favorite for Russian organized crime.
An ITF spokesman told Agence France Presse there was a feeling the United Nations
would have to step in to investigate the country's shipping interests due to international
concerns in the wake of September 11.
Cambodia's sole shipping registry, the Cambodia Shipping Corporation (CSC), can register
ships online in 24 hours without inspection and with little regulation of their activities.
CSC's chairman, Khek Sakara, declined to comment on the ITF's criticisms.
The leader of the opposition, Sam Rainsy, said he would press the government for
reform of the registry.
"Some countries like North Korea have been involved [in establishing the CSC
in 1994] and we are concerned that Cambodia could be drawn into big problems since
the US named North Korea in its [axis of evil] black list," Rainsy told the
Rainsy charged that CSC was established primarily to register 30 ships from North
Korea at a time when North Korean flagged vessels found it difficult to enter some
ports. Since then, under a contract that still has two years to run, it has registered
more than 450 ships in a highly profitable business.
Under CSC's contract 15 percent of the gross income of the company must be paid to
the government. An MPWT official, who did not want to be named, said payments since
1994 totaled around $350,000.
Rainsy said he would prefer the government take over the registry and plow the full
income back into supplementing the country's meager resources.
"The Cambodian authorities should take it back and handle it as a government
responsibility," he said.
MPWT's Yahya was less concerned. "Frankly I'm satisfied," he said. "They
pay tax to the government but we do have to reduce the problems as much as possible
and inform companies that we don't want them to ruin our reputation," he said.
Those problems include a litany of incidents involving Cambodian flagged ships. Last
month a Cambodian registered vessel with 20 Russian crew, all of whom were rescued,
sank near Taiwan.
In March a Lebanese-owned ship, the Monica, carrying 928 Kurds fleeing Iraq was intercepted
trying to land in Italy. The cargo vessel was registered in Tonga, the most recent
country to be recommended for inclusion on the ITF's FOC list.
However over the past 15 years the Monica had shifted its registration from one FOC
country to another, including Belize, Honduras and Cambodia.
That case has been used by the ITF to highlight how flags of convenience are a key
way in which smugglers of drugs, arms and people move their cargoes around the world.
The IMO, the UN body responsible for maritime safety, is expected to adopt regulation
later this year compelling all ships to display the real owner's identity. The MPWT
official was confident that Cambodia's reputation is set for rapid improvement.
White list entry is the first step of many that Cambodia will take to regulate and
improve registration, the official said.
"You will see a lot of progress in a short while. We've identified a range of
measures we need to take, one of which is obviously addressing the age of the ships
in the registry," he said. The ships on CSC's books are an average of 25 years
old, older than those on the Belize register which is also regarded as an FOC state.
"We have a very firm determination in mind about what needs to be done,"
Simon Bennett is the external relations advisor with the International Chamber of
Shipping, an international association for operators of merchant ships. He said Cambodia
had a long way to go before it could be regarded as respectable.
"Cambodia's flag state performance in 2000 put it in the Paris MOUs black list
of very high risk flags [along with Honduras and Belize]," Bennett wrote in
an email to the Post. "Its three year rolling average detention rate for the
Asia Pacific MOU is worse than both Honduras and Belize, whose own standards have
been subject to much public criticism."
While Cambodia is a signatory to most key IMO conventions it has not ratified most
amendments or the relevant International Labor Organization conventions. That, said
Bennett, was a key factor in undermining the country's credibility as a respectable
"To be taken seriously Cambodia needs to participate constructively in the international
rule-setting process," he continued. "The forum for this is the IMO, yet
Cambodia has yet to make any impact as an IMO member state."