Phnom Penh-based representatives of the Cambodian Shipping Corporation (CSC) are
denying media reports that a ship carrying more than 1,000 illegal immigrants that
ran aground on the French coast between Saint Raphael and Nice on Feb 17 was registereAd
under a Cambodian Flag of Convenience (FOC).
The Eastsea was deliberately run aground by its crew with more than 1,000 Iraqi Kurds
locked in the hold.
"The [Eastsea] does not, nor has it ever been registered under the Cambodian
flag," CSC Chairman Khek Sakara told the Post. "We have no information
whatsoever about this being a Cambodian-registered vessel."
Sakara's rejection of a CSC link to the Eastsea has been challenged by the International
Transport Federation (ITF).
"Cambodia can try to deny that they had anything to do with this ship, but how
on earth would they know? [The CSC] is an operation whose selling point is that they
can register a vessel over the internet in 24 hours. They even claim that their registration
costs are the lowest in the world," ITF General Secretary David Cockroft said
in a Feb 19 press statement.
"Flag registers are meant to ensure safe and responsible shipping. How does
that square with [CSC's] boast that there is 'no restriction on the nationality of
owners, ship officers and crews, tonnage and age of vessels'?"
Sakara said that his assurances that the Eastsea was not Cambodian-registered could
be easily confirmed by the International Maritime Organization.
If the Eastsea was found to have Cambodian registration papers, they would have to
be forgeries, he added. "I've looked at every possibility...that someone in
my office or in the Ministry of Transport issued a registration without my knowledge,
but after cross-checking five times we're sure that no Cambodian registration was
issued [for the Eastsea]," Sakara said. "Smaller registry services such
as [Cambodia's] don't have the sophisticated techniques that prevent the forgery
of registration documents,"
According to Sakara, CSC has uncovered cases of forged Cambodian ship registration
in both Malaysia and China in recent years. The company was now looking into the
acquisition of technology for "forgery proof" registration papers.
In spite of his repeated denials of CSC linkage to the Eastsea, Sakara said that
he was regularly fielding enquiries from French judicial investigators as well as
from the French Ambassador to Cambodia. Such scrutiny is unfair, Sakara said.
"The problem is 900 refugees [who were on the Eastsea]; it's not a problem of
the Cambodian flag or my company," he said.
However, ITF General Secretary David Cockroft says public scrutiny into FOC operations
such as the Cambodian Shipping Corporation is warranted.
"If Mr. Sakara is upset at being linked in the public mind with the kind of
activities typified by the Eastsea, he might like to ask why that is," Cockroft
said on Feb 21. "If somebody is planning a shady maritime activity, where would
they be likely to register - with a responsible flag state or one where the greatest
risk is not detection but being trampled underfoot in the rush to take their money?
Opinion in the industry is moving in such a way that flags as bad as Cambodia's are
unlikely to be around five years from now."
The Cambodia Shipping Corporation has about 1300 foreign ships flying the Cambodian