Chea Vandeth, a member of the selection committee for the country's new shipping
registry, has defended the government's decision to award the business to the
South Korean Cosmos Group. The contract was awarded January 3 and the company
will assume control within the month.
"This contract is very favorable
for the government's control of the registration process," Vandeth said. "Cosmos
will only do the provisional registration, then submit it to the government for
permanent inclusion under the flag," said Vandeth, an official at the Council of
However that was not the opinion of the International
Transport Workers' Federation (ITF), an international shipping union, which
slammed the decision to award the ship registry to a foreign
"It almost beggars belief," said ITF general secretary David
Cockcroft in a statement. "[The] government ... should ask [itself] how long the
rest of the world will continue to be so patient with a government that ... has
effectively licensed people smugglers, drug runners and weapons
Cockcroft was blunt when asked what kind of measures the new
owner would need to take to overcome the registry's poor name.
need to be able to walk on water, because nothing short of a miracle will clean
up the name of Cambodian shipping," he said.
Questions have already been
raised about the new contractor. The Cosmos Group acted as the shipping agent
for both the Winner and the SoSan, both Cambodian-registered ships that were
involved in serious maritime incidents last year.
The Winner was seized
off the West African coast carrying a massive haul of cocaine, while the SoSan
was used to transport North Korean scud missiles to Yemen.
both incidents on the lax practices of the former contractor, the Cambodian
Shipping Corporation (CSC).
"We knew that the Winner and the SoSan were
registered by Cosmos and we investigated that," he said. "But they only acted as
an agent. CSC's job was to manage the vessels - Cosmos just received the
documents and then forwarded them to CSC. They were not responsible for this
He added that under the terms of the contract, Cosmos had been
given one year to improve the reputation of the country's flag.
has for many years been highly critical of the Flag of Convenience registry. It
has represented the crews of several Cambodian-flagged vessels whose owners
abandoned them or refused to pay their wages.
Cockcroft said the country
had "learned nothing" from its experience.
"Once again they are going to
put the reputation of their country in the hands of what may well prove to be an
unaccountable offshore company, and all for a reported $1 million - 8 cents a
year for every Cambodian, in the unlikely event it ever reaches
The government canceled its contract with the privately-owned CSC
in July 2002 after years of embarrassing maritime incidents. Two years earlier
the environmental NGO Greenpeace criticized the registry for registering ships
engaged in illegal fishing off the Angolan coast.
Other incidents have
included human trafficking, maritime accidents and piracy.
A panel of
experts told the US House of Representatives' Armed Services Committee in June
2002 that Cambodia was among a handful of carriers that needed to be monitored
for alleged use by drugs and gun smugglers. Key problems were identified as the
ease of registration and a lack of ship inspections.
Under the new
arrangements, Cosmos is not allowed to offer online registration, which was seen
as a major problem under the previous contract.
The Cosmos Group acts as
an agent to open registries in countries such as Panama, Honduras and Belize.
Vandeth said the company was in the process of setting up a Phnom Penh
The company's website explains that there will be few
restrictions on the use of the Cambodian flag.
"Among the attractions of
the registry are relatively low taxes and registration costs," it states. "In
addition, there will be no restriction on the nationality of owners, ship
officers and crews, tonnage and age of vessels. Cambodian registry would be
[sic] one of the world's top 20 flags in near future."
The ITF said that
was storing up problems for the future.
"The Cambodian register includes
some of the world's worst ships, and [the absence of age restrictions] can only
guarantee that this will continue," Cockcroft said.
chance of cleaning up its register was to slim it down to a national flag and
boot out the criminals, the crew exploiters and the coffin ship owners who
flocked to it. Instead it could well be a case of dodgy business as usual," he
But Vandeth pleaded that the ITF simply did not understand the
difficulties faced by the government, which did not have the means or human
resources to run the registry itself.
When CSC's contract was canceled
last year, the register contained the names of more than 900 vessels. Vandeth
said around 700 remained, but admitted the paperwork had few
"Cosmos will work directly with the shipowners to gather more
accurate information on the ships," he said.