Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodia denies link to smuggling

Cambodia denies link to smuggling

Cambodia denies link to smuggling

Phnom Penh-based representatives of the Cambodian Shipping Corporation (CSC) are

denying media reports that a ship carrying more than 1,000 illegal immigrants that

ran aground on the French coast between Saint Raphael and Nice on Feb 17 was registereAd

under a Cambodian Flag of Convenience (FOC).

The Eastsea was deliberately run aground by its crew with more than 1,000 Iraqi Kurds

locked in the hold.

"The [Eastsea] does not, nor has it ever been registered under the Cambodian

flag," CSC Chairman Khek Sakara told the Post. "We have no information

whatsoever about this being a Cambodian-registered vessel."

Sakara's rejection of a CSC link to the Eastsea has been challenged by the International

Transport Federation (ITF).

"Cambodia can try to deny that they had anything to do with this ship, but how

on earth would they know? [The CSC] is an operation whose selling point is that they

can register a vessel over the internet in 24 hours. They even claim that their registration

costs are the lowest in the world," ITF General Secretary David Cockroft said

in a Feb 19 press statement.

"Flag registers are meant to ensure safe and responsible shipping. How does

that square with [CSC's] boast that there is 'no restriction on the nationality of

owners, ship officers and crews, tonnage and age of vessels'?"

Sakara said that his assurances that the Eastsea was not Cambodian-registered could

be easily confirmed by the International Maritime Organization.

If the Eastsea was found to have Cambodian registration papers, they would have to

be forgeries, he added. "I've looked at every possibility...that someone in

my office or in the Ministry of Transport issued a registration without my knowledge,

but after cross-checking five times we're sure that no Cambodian registration was

issued [for the Eastsea]," Sakara said. "Smaller registry services such

as [Cambodia's] don't have the sophisticated techniques that prevent the forgery

of registration documents,"

According to Sakara, CSC has uncovered cases of forged Cambodian ship registration

in both Malaysia and China in recent years. The company was now looking into the

acquisition of technology for "forgery proof" registration papers.

In spite of his repeated denials of CSC linkage to the Eastsea, Sakara said that

he was regularly fielding enquiries from French judicial investigators as well as

from the French Ambassador to Cambodia. Such scrutiny is unfair, Sakara said.

"The problem is 900 refugees [who were on the Eastsea]; it's not a problem of

the Cambodian flag or my company," he said.

However, ITF General Secretary David Cockroft says public scrutiny into FOC operations

such as the Cambodian Shipping Corporation is warranted.

"If Mr. Sakara is upset at being linked in the public mind with the kind of

activities typified by the Eastsea, he might like to ask why that is," Cockroft

said on Feb 21. "If somebody is planning a shady maritime activity, where would

they be likely to register - with a responsible flag state or one where the greatest

risk is not detection but being trampled underfoot in the rush to take their money?

Opinion in the industry is moving in such a way that flags as bad as Cambodia's are

unlikely to be around five years from now."

The Cambodia Shipping Corporation has about 1300 foreign ships flying the Cambodian

flag.

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