Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Nation’s maritime scheme aided North Korea




Nation’s maritime scheme aided North Korea

The last known location of a Cambodian-flagged ship allegedly used by North Korea for transporting arms to Cairo via Egypt’s Adabiya port. Google Maps
The last known location of a Cambodian-flagged ship allegedly used by North Korea for transporting arms to Cairo via Egypt’s Adabiya port. Google Maps

Nation’s maritime scheme aided North Korea

New details of Cambodia’s complicity in North Korea’s illicit shipment of 30,000 rocket grenades have come to light in a recent UN Security Council report, made public this week.

A panel of experts investigated North Korea’s “intensified” and “unprecedented” nuclear missile tests and found the communist nation was “flouting sanctions through trade in prohibited goods, with evasion techniques that are increasing in scale, scope and sophistication”.

Hoisting Cambodia’s flag was one such technique.

The Kingdom’s lucrative “flags of convenience” scheme covered a raft of sea crimes, from human trafficking to drug smuggling, and was scuppered shortly after Egyptian authorities uncovered a huge North Korean arms haul aboard a Cambodian-flagged vessel.

The report details how the vessel, the Jie Shun, was intercepted just south of the Suez Canal on August 11, having departed from North Korea’s Haeju port on July 23.

Nestled under 2,300 tonnes of limonite, or iron ore – the transport of which is also prohibited – were almost 80 wooden crates. Those contained 30,000 PG-7 rocket-propelled grenades and related subcomponents.

The bill of lading falsely labelled the portable warheads “assembly parts of the underwater pump” when they were loaded onto the ship at a port in China last March.

The panel of experts determined this “was the largest seizure of ammunition in the history of sanctions” against North Korea, which highlighted “an emerging nexus between entities trading in arms and minerals”.

An International Ship Registry of Cambodia document published in the report reveals the ship was registered under Cambodia’s flag in Taiwan on March 23, with an expiration date of August 28, though the report also shows the vessel had been captained by North Koreans under the Kingdom’s flag since 2012. It had also been operated and managed by companies from other countries, mostly China.

“This case demonstrates not only how the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea abuses flag of convenience cover, but also how it uses vessels managed by third-country nationals to transfer different types of prohibited goods,” the panel said.

The panel recommended the UN Security Council “prohibit all flag registries from registering vessels commanded by officers from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or operated by crews from that country”.

Chan Dara, a director-general at the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, did not respond to requests for comment yesterday, but last September said the decision to cancel Cambodia’s flag scheme was to avoid the scrutiny that comes with ships that violate the law, and because Cambodia lacked the ability to monitor vessels flying its colours.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan yesterday said Cambodia respected the UN sanctions. Noting the recent cancellation of the flags of convenience registry, he added, “We don’t accept this [illegal] activity at all. This is against the UN.”

International Transport Workers’ Federation maritime coordinator Jacqueline Smith said she had not yet read the report, but noted her organisation had “cautiously praised” Cambodia’s decision to nix the scheme.

“It is ironic that the register was established as a joint venture between the Cambodian government and the South Korean company Cosmos Group with 40+ North Korean vessels registered,” she said via email yesterday.

“The register has been and clearly still is being used/abused by North Korea for vessels transporting weapons and shows that the Cambodian government has not been able to retake control of its register.”

According to a number of maritime tracking registries, a handful of ships continued to fly the Cambodian flag even after the ban went into effect.

Smith urged the government to “take immediate concrete actions” to prevent future misuse of the flag to evade international sanctions. The Jie Shun is hardly the first Cambodian-flagged ship with ties to North Korea.

In an interview last September, Daniel Sneider, associate director for research at Stanford University’s Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, said Chinese and North Korean ships could hide behind Cambodia’s banner to conduct illicit business.

“The North Koreans have long used foreign flagging to conceal their activity, particularly things like arms shipments,” Sneider said.

MOST VIEWED

  • School reopening to be postponed until November

    Minister of Education Hang Chuon Naron on Tuesday wrote to Prime Minister Hun Sen requesting a delay of school reopening across the Kingdom until November, when the new academic year begins. In his letter, Chuon Naron said the postponement is warranted to avoid the new

  • Foreigners in Kingdom must now register in FPCS system

    The Ministry of Interior’s General Department of Immigration (GDI) announced that it would not grant visa extensions to foreigners staying in Cambodia if their names are not listed on the Foreigners Present in Cambodia System (FPCS) by July 1. Foreign nationals can register in the

  • Covid-19 at ‘alarming rate’, health ministry says

    The Covid-19 risk level for individual transmission is at an “alarming rate” in the Kingdom and its probability is “not low”, warned Health Ministry spokesperson Or Vandine. “Cambodia’s coronavirus scenario is classified as being at an early stage of the pandemic because of ongoing

  • Mandatory quarantine for 30,000 workers begins

    Some of the roughly 30,000 workers from factories and enterprises across the Kingdom who went on leave during Khmer New Year began their government-imposed 14-day quarantine on Monday. Speaking at a press conference while visiting workers at the Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone on Monday, Ministry

  • Unemployed to get $40 per month

    The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training has instructed enterprises, business owners and travel agencies in five provinces to prepare the proper forms for the suspension of employment contracts. This, it said, will make it easier for the ministry to transfer $40 a month to workers

  • Gov’t travel ban flouted

    While the majority of Cambodians have paid heed to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s order to stay put and not travel during the Khmer New Year – the holidays of which were also postponed – several hundred have left Phnom Penh nonetheless. They have allegedly breached provincial

  • G20 energy ministers struggle to finalise oil output cuts

    Top oil producers struggled to finalise production cuts during a virtual summit held by Group of 20 (G20) energy ministers on Friday, despite US President Donald Trump’s mediation efforts to end a standoff with Mexico. The final G20 communique appeared to gloss over simmering divisions

  • Kingdom revises travel restriction order

    The government on Friday eased the district and provincial border restrictions issued on Thursday. People are now allowed to cross districts within their provinces. Phnom Penh and Kandal province are to be treated as a single region where people are allowed to travel freely. In

  • Private schools struggling

    The Cambodian Higher Education Association has claimed that 113 private educational establishments are facing bankruptcy because of their inability to pay rent and staff salaries in light of nationwide school closures caused by the Covid-19 outbreak. It said the financial trouble started when the Ministry of

  • Khmer New Year holidays postponed

    In an effort to halt Covid-19 infections in the Kingdom, Prime Minister Hun Sen has postponed the Khmer New Year holidays scheduled from April 13 to 16. While the people will not have their usual break, nor will there be any public celebrations or gatherings at pagodas,