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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodian ships 'potential security risks'

Cambodian ships 'potential security risks'

Cambodia is now one of 12 states - most former Soviet republics - listed on the latest

US Coast Guard's Special Interest Vessels #1 (SIV1) register, according to the Coast

Guard's website.

Listing on the register imposes special approval requirements to enter US waters

and stringent vessel and cargo inspection measures.

Cambodian-flagged ships that are granted permission to enter US waters must now comply

with criteria that include "physical and electronic inspections [of cargo] in

conjunction with routine inspections" as well as the prevention of "cargo

operations and crew disem-barkment until completion of SIV1 security boarding".

Those vessels denied USCG approval must remain outside US territorial waters and

if discovered in a US port are subject to constant "waterside and shoreside

surveillance".

Attempts by the Phnom Penh Post to get USCG clarification of the reasons for Cambodia's

SIV1 rating were unsuccessful.

Under USCG classification guidelines, SIV1 status is surpassed in seriousness only

by its SIV2 list, which lumps together seven so-called "rogue states" -

including Iraq, Sudan and N. Korea - and imposes blanket bans on their ships' entry

into US waters. Through the government concession Cambodia Shipping Corporation (CSC),

the Kingdom has become one of the world's cheapest "Flag of Convenience"

states with 408 foreign-owned ships currently holding Cambodian registry worldwide.

CSC Chairman Kek Sakara told the Post he had not been previously informed of the

SIV1 listing and attributed it to a combination of the USCG's unfamiliarity with

Cambodian-flagged ships and an unfavorable international image of both Cambodia and

his company.

"Six months ago [USCG] had never even seen a Cambodian flag and it might be

strange for them," Sakara said of the motivation behind the SIV1 classification.

"The US... might be a bit suspicious because of the Eastsea problem and because

Cambodia is suspected of exporting drugs."

The Eastsea was a reportedly Cambodian-registered vessel that ran aground on the

French Coast on Feb 17 carrying a cargo of more than 1000 Kurdish illegal immigrants.

CSC has denied any connection with the ship.

Sakara concedes that the SIV1 ruling places Cambodian-flagged ships in unsavory company

("They're drug states," he said of the other SIV1 countries), but says

that the US has overreacted due to a recent glut of ships taking Cambodian registration

in the Middle East.

To add to CSC's problems, Cambodia has also been placed on the USCG's annual 2001

Flag List, a grouping of flag states with above-average detention rates.

The Flag List rating automatically places those country's ships in the USCG's "Priority

Two" inspection category that allow US authorities to restrict the ship's movements

until it is examined. The list is reviewed annually and states are added and deleted

according to their conduct.

The 48.6% detention rate for Cambodian ships was almost 14 times higher than the

overall 1998-2000 detention rate of 3.55%, giving Cambodia the second-highest detention

rate behind Bolivia. The Cambodian detentions involved two vessels - Yamburg and

Nos Terra - detained twice in different ports between April 1, 2000 and March 30,

2001.

Sakara says Cambodia's presence on the 2001 Flag List is not a problem.

"Detentions are very subjective and could be for anything from safety reasons

to missing parts or paint," he said. "Actually it's good if a ship is detained

because it allows the captain to see what's wrong with it."

More problematic, he admits, is the SIV1 listing.

"[The SIV1 listing] is not so bad right now because most of [CSC] work is in

Asia, but in future if we develop we'll have to do something about that," he

said.

CSC is a government concession created in 1994 to market Cambodian ship registration

as a Flag of Convenience to international cargo shippers.

Sixteen percent of the company's shares are owned and controlled by Rim In Ryong,

a former Phnom Penh-based North Korean diplomat.

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