The reputation of the Kingdom's troubled ship registry sank even further this week
when yet another Cambodian-flagged vessel was involved in an international maritime
The Korf reportedly flew a Cambodian flag when it was used by gunmen to take over
a Russian fishing trawler in the Sea of Japan. The attack stemmed from a business
dispute over the boat's 320-ton frozen fish cargo. The four-day hijacking ended when
Russian warships intercepted the trawler on November 20.
However government spokesperson Khieu Khanarith said Cambodia was absolved from all
blame in the latest in a series of international maritime incidents. The reason,
he explained, was that the ship's registration expired in July, around the same time
the government took over the registry.
He confirmed though that earlier in the year the Korf was registered temporarily
with Cambodia's shipping registry as the Koaf.
"We already checked and we found out that the ship doesn't have the right to
bear the Cambodian flag anymore," said Khanarith. "To use the Cambodian
flag was illegal."
The incident is, however, somewhat embarrassing for the government, since news reports
around the world listed the ship as Cambodian registered. In the eyes of the world,
this was yet another incident involving a Cambodian registered vessel, adding to
the country's reputation as a flag of convenience state.
The country's shipping registry was operated by the private Cambodian Shipping Corporation
(CSC) until the government canceled its contract on July 30. The nail in the coffin
for the privately-owned flag of convenience operator was the discovery of the cocaine
laden Winner under a Cambodian flag off the coast of West Africa in June.
The CSC was linked to Funcinpec and thought to be created for the benefit of North
Korean vessels. It offered online registration in 24 hours, a feature that attracted
at least 450 ship owners to register here.
Under its contract, 15 percent of the company's gross income had to be paid to the
government. The transport ministry estimated earlier this year that fees paid amounted
to about $350,000 since the company was established in 1994.
Now that the government has seized the registry, it hopes to reform the damaged reputation
and generate some revenues. Seng Lim Noeu is undersecretary of state at the Council
of Ministers, and chairman of the bidding committee, which will assess offers to
run the former CSC.
He said a successful bid would have to meet certain criteria.
"First, they must have sufficient experience, and secondly they must have an
international reputation and sufficient resources," he said. "The government
will change the situation, [because] the implementation by the previous company affected
the government's name."
Lim Noeu added that both Khmer and foreign companies would be allowed to bid to take
over the registry. Applications were due December 9, he said, and the committee would
decide on the most reliable company at least one week later. However, he warned certain
conditions had to be met.
"If it is a foreign company, it should set up a subsidiary office in Cambodia
and pay a deposit in case any problem happens. We don't have much experience with
[ship registries]," he said.
Another requirement was an employment quota.
"We are putting a condition that Khmer crew be allowed to work on the vessels.
We demand that, so that they will create jobs for Khmers who will also be the eyes
and nose of the government."
Lim Noeu added that vessels previously registered with CSC would keep paying tax
to the government. They would retain their flags and need not register again.
"We need a company with a good name in charge of the ship registry so that our
reputation will not worsen," said Lim Noeu.
However those changes were not enough to reform Cambodia's damaged international
reputation, said opposition member of parliament Son Chhay, the former chair of the
National Assembly's transport committee.
"I don't think the problem has been solved," he said. "Nothing has
been done but changing hands."
Son Chhay asserted that the changeover was merely a CPP power play to take over a
Funcinpec business, and maintained that standards were still lacking. He said ships
previously registered should be recalled and properly evaluated.
"I would abolish this kind of business," he said.
He said the best thing to do would be to stop the ship registry since it was illegal
from the start, the government had not benefited, and it was bad for the country's