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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Winner became CSC's big loser

Winner became CSC's big loser

The cocaine-laden Winner proved to be a terminal loser for Cambodia's troubled ship

registry. When French troops started boarding the Cambodian-flagged ship, the crew

began to do the only sensible thing: start throwing bag upon bag of cocaine into

the sea.

Their actions did not succeed, and instead proved the final straw for the Cambodian

government. On July 30, two years early, it canceled its contract with the privately-owned

flag of convenience (FOC) operator, the Cambodian Shipping Corporation (CSC).

Suspicions have long swirled around the royally-connected CSC, with its role as an

FOC provider to North Korean vessels and poor maritime track record. As a profitable

Funcinpec-linked company in a Funcinpec ministry it was rumored to have caught the

eye of the ruling Cambodian People's Party. Eight CPP parliamentarians asked a series

of questions of the troubled registry earlier this year.

The phone of CSC's former chairman, Khek Sakara, carries a message stating in two

languages that it "no longer exists in the system". One language would

be enough: Sakara doesn't want to talk after spending years arguing that his registry

wasn't so bad.

When the Eastsea ran aground laden with 1,000 Kurdish asylum seekers in February

2001, his answer was simple. "It's not registered with me."

When the US Coastguard placed Cambodian-flagged ships on the 2001 'Flag List' for

having a detention rate 14 times the average, Sakara replied that "detentions

are subjective".

And when one major wire service quoted international shipping authorities referring

to Cambodia as a "dustbin for rust-buckets", CSC got serious and dispatched

its legal team to look into the matter. No sooner had CSC in a clarification statement

vowed to improve its performance, than another Cambodian-flagged ship sank.

Then in June London's The Guardian newspaper tested the security of the 24-hour online

registration. The newspaper registered a fictional ship in the name of Zacarias Moussaoui,

the so-called 20th hijacker in the September 11 attacks.

The newspaper submitted the fictional 14,000 ton Atilla to CSC's online registration

with a bogus London address. After a few faxes and emails, CSC requested a $17,350

check be sent to a Standard Chartered Bank in Singapore. When all was revealed CSC

threatened to sue.

July's takeover should prove the end of the matter, with the government issuing clear

declarations that it would investigate sub-standard ships. But registering vessels

in FOC states has long proved lucrative, and with CSC's income generating capacity,

the country's international maritime incidents could still linger.

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