The cocaine-laden Winner proved to be a terminal loser for Cambodia's troubled ship
registry. When French troops started boarding the Cambodian-flagged ship, the crew
began to do the only sensible thing: start throwing bag upon bag of cocaine into
Their actions did not succeed, and instead proved the final straw for the Cambodian
government. On July 30, two years early, it canceled its contract with the privately-owned
flag of convenience (FOC) operator, the Cambodian Shipping Corporation (CSC).
Suspicions have long swirled around the royally-connected CSC, with its role as an
FOC provider to North Korean vessels and poor maritime track record. As a profitable
Funcinpec-linked company in a Funcinpec ministry it was rumored to have caught the
eye of the ruling Cambodian People's Party. Eight CPP parliamentarians asked a series
of questions of the troubled registry earlier this year.
The phone of CSC's former chairman, Khek Sakara, carries a message stating in two
languages that it "no longer exists in the system". One language would
be enough: Sakara doesn't want to talk after spending years arguing that his registry
wasn't so bad.
When the Eastsea ran aground laden with 1,000 Kurdish asylum seekers in February
2001, his answer was simple. "It's not registered with me."
When the US Coastguard placed Cambodian-flagged ships on the 2001 'Flag List' for
having a detention rate 14 times the average, Sakara replied that "detentions
And when one major wire service quoted international shipping authorities referring
to Cambodia as a "dustbin for rust-buckets", CSC got serious and dispatched
its legal team to look into the matter. No sooner had CSC in a clarification statement
vowed to improve its performance, than another Cambodian-flagged ship sank.
Then in June London's The Guardian newspaper tested the security of the 24-hour online
registration. The newspaper registered a fictional ship in the name of Zacarias Moussaoui,
the so-called 20th hijacker in the September 11 attacks.
The newspaper submitted the fictional 14,000 ton Atilla to CSC's online registration
with a bogus London address. After a few faxes and emails, CSC requested a $17,350
check be sent to a Standard Chartered Bank in Singapore. When all was revealed CSC
threatened to sue.
July's takeover should prove the end of the matter, with the government issuing clear
declarations that it would investigate sub-standard ships. But registering vessels
in FOC states has long proved lucrative, and with CSC's income generating capacity,
the country's international maritime incidents could still linger.