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Trouble ahoy at shipping registry

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The recent seizure of Cambodian-flagged ships caught poaching crabs off Russia's Pacific Coast again throws light on the lax requirements of the Kingdom's shipping registry

Photo by:
Heng Chivoan

A Cambodian-flagged ship sits in the Phnom Penh Port.

THE recent seizures of Cambodian-flagged fishing trawlers caught poaching crabs off Russia's eastern coast further tarnishes the already battered reputation of the Kingdom's shipping registry, foreign officials say.

"We are worried because it is a common occurrence for Cambodian vessels to violate the law," a Russian embassy spokesman Wednesday.

Four fishing vessels flying the Cambodian flag - but manned by Russian nationals - were seized by the Russian coast guard earlier this week off Russia's Pacific coast, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti said.

The spokesman said the embassy was unhappy with the recent transgressions, adding that lax requirements for registering a ship under the Cambodian flag most likely accounted for the large number of such vessels caught poaching in Russian fishing grounds.

In a case of violations like this, he said it was "common practice" to issue a notice of complaint to the Cambodian government. "We leave it up to them to revoke the license [of these ships]," he explained.

Seng Lim Neou, head of the Ship Registration Committee in the Council of Ministers, said the incidents would not affect Cambodia's reputation and that he had not received any serious complaints in years.

While there were clear registration requirements, he said "in practice, it is normal that there are mistakes", adding that "it is the responsibility of the ship owner" to ensure ships are not in violation of local maritime laws.

He said as long as there was no smuggling of drugs or arms under the Cambodian flag, there was no reason for concern, and he would not take any further steps.

For years, the Cambodian flag was a popular flag of convenience until, under pressure from US officials, the Cambodian government vowed to clean up the registration process. In 2003, it empowered the International Ship Registry of Cambodia (ISROC) in Busan, Korea, to turn the Cambodian flag into the "foremost flag in the world", as its website puts it.

Registration, including a declaration that ship owners will not fish illegally, is processed through ISROC headquarters in Busan, with revenues going into the government's coffers.

An easy registration process and low fees are the chief advantages of registering a ship under the Cambodian flag, said William Lui, deputy registrar for ISROC in China and Hong Kong. He added that Cambodian-flagged ships can enter any port worldwide

Olga Birovarova from ISROC's Deputy Registrar's Office in the Russian port city of Nakhodka said Thursday by phone registration took only two days and cost US$3,700 for a ship weighing 2,000 gross registered tonnes, but added that she did not know where the reported crab poachers had registered their vessels.

A Vietnam-based foreign maritime expert said he "wouldn't be surprised" if the Russian ship owners had "connections to the highest levels of government and could get anything registered".

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