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Drug ship sparks probe

The government has ordered an investigation into the nation's privately-owned

shipping registry following the seizure of a Cambodian-flagged ship carrying

millions of dollars worth of cocaine on June 13.

French troops fired on

and intercepted the Winner in international waters of the west coast of Africa.

Authorities said the ship was carrying as much as two tons of cocaine worth $230

million. Only 100 kilograms was recovered after the crew reportedly threw the

bulk of the illicit cargo overboard.

Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Nam

Hong told reporters on June 17 the ship had been traveling from Latin America

when it was intercepted in the joint US-French operation. Approval to board was

given by Prime Minister Hun Sen on June 7.

Nam Hong said the government

would investigate the Cambodian Shipping Corporation, which is a Singapore-based

company that won the concession to register ships under the Cambodian flag in

1994.

CSC chairman Khek Sakara, a grandson of King Norodom Sihanouk,

issued a statement on June 17 saying his company was cooperating with relevant

authorities.

"Data on ships are made readily available to other

administrations for purposes of intelligence gathering or investigations," the

statement read. "The registry has been continuously cooperating with other

international authorities to prevent the illegal use of Cambodian

vessels."

The foreign minister accused the register of being reckless for

allowing ships to fly the Cambodian flag without proper inspections or controls.

The government, he said, would press ahead with plans to audit the registry,

plans that were in place prior to the seizure of the Winner.

Secretary of

State for the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, Ahmed Yahya, said he had

not been informed of the investigation. Cambodia had no law to regulate the ship

registry business, though a draft law was with the Council of Ministers and

would come to his ministry in the next few weeks.

It has been a bad year

for CSC, which has been criticised by maritime bodies, including the

International Transport Federation and the International Chamber of Shipping,

for its poor record.

Lloyd's list, which monitors shipping accidents

worldwide, recorded 13 cases last year where Cambodian flagged ships were

involved in serious accidents.

In May Cambodian authorities sought entry

to the International Maritime Organization's white list. Officials here said the

IMO rejected it saying further reform was needed to meet entry

criteria.

More than 450 ships have been registered by CSC, most in the

past three years. The Winner was first registered in Cambodia as the Amir One in

March 1999, but its name was changed in November last year when it was sold by

Amir Shipping to Chariot Marine. Both companies are registered in the Marshall

Islands.

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