The chairman of the Cambodian Shipping Corporation (CSC), Khek Sakara, will face
questioning again on July 19 over a Cambodian flagged ship that was found laden with
cocaine off Africa's west coast last month.
Sakara said that a committee from the Ministry of Interior quizzed him on July 17
about the private registry and "more specifically about the Winner".
"This is just a collaboration. We are all trying to avoid these kinds of problems
in the future," he said, adding the CSC doesn't "have too many incidents".
"I'm giving them the documents that every ship owner provides when they register,
including the certificate of registration," he said.
However the investigation is likely to go beyond the most recent incident. Officials
from the Ministry of Public Works and Transport (MPWT) confirmed that they were preparing
documents for the audit of Cambodia's troubled private ship registry.
In a letter of appointment for the investigating committee dated June 24 the MoI
instructed the ad hoc committee members to study documents related to the number
of ships registered with CSC and their conditions.
Pointedly no one from the ministry responsible, the Funcinpec-controlled MPWT, was
included on the committee.
"This is very curious because it should be the responsibility of the MPWT or
even Foreign Affairs," said the Sam Rainsy Party's transport spokesman Son Chhay,
who welcomed the move to investigate.
"We're hoping that there will be a serious investigation," he said. "This
company should be fired and the government should look for a more responsible way
of running this business.
"If not we'll hear more stories about problems with Cambodian flagged ships,"
"From the beginning we've known that this company was created for the benefit
of these 30 North Korean vessels. Now it has expanded to Chinese and Eastern European
ships," he added.
Sakara said he was not concerned about the cancellation of CSC's contract since this
was a "matter for the government to decide". Under the contract 15 percent
of the gross income of the company must be paid to the government. An MPWT official
said that amounted to around $350,000 since the company was established in 1994.
Sixteen percent of the company's shares are owned by Rim In Ryong, a former Phnom
Penh-based North Korean diplomat
The registry has been plagued by accusations that it is one of the world's worst
Flag of Convenience (FOC) states. Greenpeace, Human Rights Watch, the International
Transport Federation, and the International Chamber of Shipping have all singled
out Cambodia's registry for criticism.
Most recently the registry has had US officials nervous in the wake of September
11. In early July CSC confirmed that the Singapore-based registry had been asked
to provide a list of ship owners registered in Cambodia. A panel of experts addressed
the US House of Representatives' Armed Services Committee in June on the role of
FOCs in arms smuggling.
The panel of experts told the committee that Cambodia was among the handful of carriers
that need to be monitored for use by drug and gun smugglers. The ease of registration
and lack of ship inspections are viewed as key problems.
That ease was highlighted in June when London's The Guardian newspaper registered
a fictional ship in the name of Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker in
the September 11 attacks.
The newspaper submitted a fictional ship, the 14,000 ton Atilla, to CSC's online
registration with a bogus London address. After a few faxes and emails, CSC requested
a check for $17,350 be sent to Standard Chartered Bank in Singapore.
Online registration in only 24 hours is just one of the features that has attracted
at least 450 ship owners to register in Cambodia. Khek Sakara has long maintained
that the registry cannot be held responsible for the commercial activities of its