The crew of a Cambodian-flagged cargo ship detained in Cochin, India, and claiming
to have no fuel, food or fresh water, have appealed to the Cambodian Shipping Corporation
(CSC) for assistance.
The plea from the 30-man crew of the Wald Al Agouz, who have been stranded in Cochin
since the ship's April 14 court-ordered detention, comes after an abandonment of
the vessel by its United Arab Emirates owner, Abu Qurrah Oil. The company reportedly
bought Cambodian registration for the ship on May 25, 2000.
A May 9 letter sent by the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) to CSC
Chairman Khek Sakara reads:"The seafarers working on board [Wald Al Agouz] have
not received their wages for an impressive period of seven months... and rely exclusively
on voluntary and irregular donations from the local community; the owners of the
vessel have failed to reply to our numerous requests to provide their employees with
much needed food, water fuel and medical assistance. Therefore we ultimately address
yourself as the Flag State and request your prompt intervention as a matter of urgency."
CSC Chairman Khek Sakara confirmed having received the ITF request, and told the
Post on May 10 that while he was sympathetic to the crew's plight, his company had
no legal obligation to assist in the matter.
"It's not the responsibility of the flag state to deal with compensation,"
Sakara said. "Normally in cases in which a ship owner doesn't pay its crew,
the crew can [sell] the ship to receive the money they're owed."
According to the ITF, which has agreed to represent the crew of 30 Indians, Pakistanis,
Sudanese and Somalis on an emergency basis, both the ship and company which owns
it are notorious for their unfair treatment of their crews.
"[Abu Qurrah Oil] were also the owners [of Wald Al Agouz] in 1997... when the
crew asked for help because they had not been paid for an average of six months.
Threatened with [legal] action they eventually paid much of the money owed,"
said ITF spokesman Sam Dawson. "The ship is described as being in poor condition
and looks like an example of one where the owners have for years been breaking the
law. Either to cut costs further or in order to gain additional impunity, they appear
to have chosen Cambodia as the best place to register."
In the past year, the ITF has handled claims from the crews of six other Cambodian-flagged
vessels seeking unpaid wages. David Cockroft, ITF General Secretary, says the CSC
must ultimately take responsibility for instances in which it has contracted the
Cambodian-flag to devious ship owners and operators.
"Cambodia risks squandering the international sympathy it previously attracted
when it runs a [Flag of Convenience] register that assists those carrying out activities
that run from degrading to criminal," Cockroft told the Post. "It may bring
in money, but at what cost? At the cost of defrauded crews and the name of Cambodia
being dragged through the mud."
The ITF has also expressed concern that the Wald Al Agouz lacks an official classification,
which its says facilitates the use of old, unsafe vessels on the high seas.
"From the data on Seaway [a cargo shipping database], it is alarming to see
that the majority of ships on the Cambodian register have no class mentioned on their
details at all. This reflects very badly upon the owners of the ships concerned and
the register, which is prepared to tolerate a large proportion of unclassed tonnage
on its books," a 2001 ITF briefing document on the Cambodia Shipping Corporation
"It demonstrates clearly the accusation that a register like Cambodia exists
to provide a home for rubbish which would no longer be able to operate in, for example,
the Russian or Turkish fleets. As these countries themselves have a record for Port
State Control detentions which is not admirable, it can be deduced that the Cambodia
register provides opportunities for continued trading for ships which should have
According to Seaway statistics, ships that pay for Cambodian registration are an
average of 24 years of age, compared to twelve years and 16 years for competing Flag
of Convenience states Liberia and Panama.