Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Navy, China Embassy offer different stories on ‘detained’ trawlers

Navy, China Embassy offer different stories on ‘detained’ trawlers

Chinese-flagged fishing trawlers are seen floating on Thursday near Krao island off the coast of Koh Kong province where they have been held for weeks.
Chinese-flagged fishing trawlers are seen floating on Thursday near Krao island off the coast of Koh Kong province where they have been held for weeks. Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon

Navy, China Embassy offer different stories on ‘detained’ trawlers

Weeks after a fleet of 18 Chinese trawlers was detained by the authorities in Koh Kong, the vessels and their skeleton crews remain in Cambodian waters amid conflicting reports on why they were impounded, and with little indication as to when they and their crews will leave.

Koh Kong Provincial Governor Bun Leut yesterday told the Post that an official from the Chinese Embassy visited the impounded vessels – each of which has a crew of two Chinese nationals – a fortnight ago to identify the owning company.

“These are international fishing boats, and they cannot fish our waters,” Leut said of the trawlers, whose home port is marked as Guangzhou.

On August 16, Leut had told the Post it marked the first time Chinese ships had been found in Cambodian waters, adding: “We sent a report to the top leaders and wait for their decision”.

As of yesterday, said Leut, no decision had been taken.

Defence Ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat said Open Seas Security – the committee that detained the vessels and which involves the Navy, the Fisheries Administration and provincial authorities – had been working with Chinese officials. However, “in short we have not received the result yet”.

In emailed comments, Cheng Hongbo, chief of the Chinese Embassy’s political section, told the Post that, “as we know, some Chinese ships are temporarily halted in the Cambodian waters due to technical problems caused by the recent bad weather and atrocious climatic conditions”.

“The ships will soon leave the waters once they get repaired and changed the broken machine parts,” he wrote. “We highly appreciate the humanitarian assistances provided by the Cambodian side.”

When asked about the conflicting narrative provided by Cambodian authorities, Cheng wrote that, “it seems there is some information misunderstanding”.

Neither the head of the Navy, Admiral Tea Vinh, nor his deputy Tea Sokha – Vinh’s son and the official in charge of Open Seas Security – could be reached for comment.

Mao Sambo, the captain of the Navy’s Marine Boat 1106, which took part in the operation to detain the vessels, told the Post on Saturday that, “the top leaders had ordered to seize the boats … This is first time that we see Chinese boats.”

Asked what would become of the boats and crew, Sambo said: “We have not received orders from leaders yet.”

If the Chinese fleet was caught fishing in Cambodian waters, it would be of a piece with the increasing range of Beijing’s vast trawling industry, which, having over-exploited domestic stocks, now sends ships as far afield as South America.

A Cambodian naval vessel involved in the detention of several Chinese trawlers off the coast is seen docked in Koh Kong.
A Cambodian naval vessel involved in the detention of several Chinese trawlers off the coast is seen docked in Koh Kong. Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon

“In the past few years, China has tended to allow – even encourage – its fishing trawlers to travel to all parts of the world to fish, sometimes irrespective of territorial waters of other countries,” said Dr Paul Chambers, director of research at the Institute of Southeast Asian Affairs at Chiang Mai University, in an email.

Chambers added that through this event, Beijing might be gauging the extent to which Prime Minister Hun Sen would ignore breaches of Cambodian territorial waters.

Earlier this month, Navy Chief of Staff Mei Dina told the Post the Open Seas Security forces had detained some of the Chinese vessels in mid-July.

“Before these boats paid tax in Thailand for [docking], but when their licence had expired, the Thai [authorities] had asked them to move out,” he said, adding: “We do not know who those boats had communicated with.”

By August 4, he said, 18 boats were being held.

“We do not know who is behind this and it might be related to a small or big man,” he said. “They came to shelter [in our waters] and whom they depend on I do not know.”

Local fisherman Sok Chea, 30, on Thursday told Post reporters that he had seen a Navy vessel with seven soldiers escort the trawlers a month ago to their present location near the Oao Wov naval base, a few minutes by sea from Koh Kapi village.

“There were our Cambodian solders protecting those boats . . . They are stationed on the boats with Chinese crews, taking shifts,” he said, adding that “they had questioned the crews why the boats [were] coming to dock in Cambodian territory”.

Chea said that he and his fellow fishermen have become used to seeing foreign vessels, but that they were usually Thai or Vietnamese.

“The number of Thai boats has increased because they’ve tightened their fishing regulations,” he said. “Therefore, they come to fish in Cambodian territory because our country’s law is flawed and they just pay our Navy soldiers to fish in our territory.”

The interview with Chea came to an abrupt end when several Navy officers boarded his fishing boat, telling reporters they were not allowed to be there and instructing them to delete photographs.

MOST VIEWED

  • Time to avert disastrous Covid situation: officials

    The Covid-19 situation in Cambodia is heading towards further large-scale community transmission as the total number of confirmed cases is nearing 61,000 and the death toll passed 900 on July 10, senior health officials warned. Ministry of Health spokeswoman Or Vandine expressed concern that the country was going

  • Two luxury hotels latest quarantine options for inbound travellers

    The Inter-Ministerial Committee to Combat Covid-19 has designated two luxury hotels as alternative quarantine options for travellers who wish to enter Cambodia through Phnom Penh International Airport – Sokha Phnom Penh Hotel & Residence and the Courtyard by Marriott Phnom Penh. In a notice detailing guidelines issued

  • Visa A holders get to quarantine at Himawari Hotel

    The Ministry of Health has permitted foreign diplomats, UN and International NGO officials to undergo quarantine at Himawari Hotel in the capital in case they do not have a separate place suitable for this purpose, but the government would not be responsible for the expenses.

  • Baby saved as mother is lost to Covid

    Newborn baby Neth David has had a rough start in the world. His mother, Vong Daneth, was seven months pregnant when she contracted a severe case of Covid-19. When it became clear to her doctors that she would not survive, they performed a cesarean section

  • Jabs for kids bring hope for school reopenings

    Cambodia is tentatively planning to reopen schools – at least at the secondary level – when the vaccination of children aged 12-17 is completed, even though daily transmissions and deaths in other age groups remain high. Schools across the country have been suspended since March 20, one month

  • Hun Sen: Get 12-17 age group ready for Covid jabs

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has told parents of children aged 12-17 in Phnom Penh and the provinces of Kandal and Preah Sihanouk to get them ready for vaccinations soon. “There is a need to vaccinate children and youths aged 12 to 17. According to the statistics provided