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Bid to shed shipping flag tag

Bid to shed shipping flag tag

Despite sharp criticism over its shipping registry, Cambodia still plans to seek

entry to the International Maritime Organization's "white list" at a London

meeting scheduled for May 15. The white list identifies those countries that the

IMO feels have met internationally recognized training standards.

Secretary of state at the Ministry of Public Works and Transport (MPWT), Ahmad Yahya,

said his office had prepared a series of answers to queries from the IMO's evaluation

panel ahead of the 75th session of the organization's safety committee.

"Cambodia needs to do everything it can to protect it's reputation," he

said of the process.

Ministry officials have made efforts to have Cambodia approved since the country's

accession to the Standard of Training Crews and Watchkeeping (STCW) convention in

June last year. White list entry would help to legitimize Cambodia's role as a ship

registry, but a number of criteria must first be met.

The IMO has sought clarification on a number of points including Cambodia's non-implementation

of quality standards and the absence of regulations to address fraud.

However Cambodia's efforts to shed its 'flag of convenience' (FOC) image received

a severe blow recently after the International Transport Federation described the

country's ports as a favorite for Russian organized crime.

An ITF spokesman told Agence France Presse there was a feeling the United Nations

would have to step in to investigate the country's shipping interests due to international

concerns in the wake of September 11.

Cambodia's sole shipping registry, the Cambodia Shipping Corporation (CSC), can register

ships online in 24 hours without inspection and with little regulation of their activities.

CSC's chairman, Khek Sakara, declined to comment on the ITF's criticisms.

The leader of the opposition, Sam Rainsy, said he would press the government for

reform of the registry.

"Some countries like North Korea have been involved [in establishing the CSC

in 1994] and we are concerned that Cambodia could be drawn into big problems since

the US named North Korea in its [axis of evil] black list," Rainsy told the

Post.

Rainsy charged that CSC was established primarily to register 30 ships from North

Korea at a time when North Korean flagged vessels found it difficult to enter some

ports. Since then, under a contract that still has two years to run, it has registered

more than 450 ships in a highly profitable business.

Under CSC's contract 15 percent of the gross income of the company must be paid to

the government. An MPWT official, who did not want to be named, said payments since

1994 totaled around $350,000.

Rainsy said he would prefer the government take over the registry and plow the full

income back into supplementing the country's meager resources.

"The Cambodian authorities should take it back and handle it as a government

responsibility," he said.

MPWT's Yahya was less concerned. "Frankly I'm satisfied," he said. "They

pay tax to the government but we do have to reduce the problems as much as possible

and inform companies that we don't want them to ruin our reputation," he said.

Those problems include a litany of incidents involving Cambodian flagged ships. Last

month a Cambodian registered vessel with 20 Russian crew, all of whom were rescued,

sank near Taiwan.

In March a Lebanese-owned ship, the Monica, carrying 928 Kurds fleeing Iraq was intercepted

trying to land in Italy. The cargo vessel was registered in Tonga, the most recent

country to be recommended for inclusion on the ITF's FOC list.

However over the past 15 years the Monica had shifted its registration from one FOC

country to another, including Belize, Honduras and Cambodia.

That case has been used by the ITF to highlight how flags of convenience are a key

way in which smugglers of drugs, arms and people move their cargoes around the world.

The IMO, the UN body responsible for maritime safety, is expected to adopt regulation

later this year compelling all ships to display the real owner's identity. The MPWT

official was confident that Cambodia's reputation is set for rapid improvement.

White list entry is the first step of many that Cambodia will take to regulate and

improve registration, the official said.

"You will see a lot of progress in a short while. We've identified a range of

measures we need to take, one of which is obviously addressing the age of the ships

in the registry," he said. The ships on CSC's books are an average of 25 years

old, older than those on the Belize register which is also regarded as an FOC state.

"We have a very firm determination in mind about what needs to be done,"

he said.

Simon Bennett is the external relations advisor with the International Chamber of

Shipping, an international association for operators of merchant ships. He said Cambodia

had a long way to go before it could be regarded as respectable.

"Cambodia's flag state performance in 2000 put it in the Paris MOUs black list

of very high risk flags [along with Honduras and Belize]," Bennett wrote in

an email to the Post. "Its three year rolling average detention rate for the

Asia Pacific MOU is worse than both Honduras and Belize, whose own standards have

been subject to much public criticism."

While Cambodia is a signatory to most key IMO conventions it has not ratified most

amendments or the relevant International Labor Organization conventions. That, said

Bennett, was a key factor in undermining the country's credibility as a respectable

flag carrier.

"To be taken seriously Cambodia needs to participate constructively in the international

rule-setting process," he continued. "The forum for this is the IMO, yet

Cambodia has yet to make any impact as an IMO member state."

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