Government Sold National Ship Registry Rights

Cambodia has no control over Cambodian-flagged ships complicit in illegal activities on the high seas as the government sold the authority to register ocean-going vessels, under Cambodia’s national flag, to a company in South Korea for $6 million, a Council of Ministers official claimed Thursday. On Tuesday, the European Commission (E.C.) announced that it would impose a ban on all seafood imports from Cambodia—the first such ban in the history of the European Union (E.U.)—as Cambodia had failed to address any of the issues raised by the E.U. over illegal fishing operations by vessels flying the Cambodian flag. … Cambodia wrote to the E.C. in June claiming that it had stripped vessels of the right to fly a Cambodian flag, leaving some 84 vessels registered to the country in 2013. Lloyd’s Register of Shipping, however, documented 144 Cambodian-flagged vessels as of 2013, while the World Register of Shipping, cited by the E.C., listed 150. According to the U.K.-based Environmental Justice Foundation, 176 fishing vessels and 24 fishing factory ships were registered under the Cambodian na­tional flag in 2009—a registration process that takes just 24 hours, and can be done completely online. Seng Lim Neou, a former secretary of state with the Council of Ministers, confirmed Thursday that he heads a Council of Ministers committee in charge of cooperating with the International Ship Registry of Cambodia (ISROC), a private company that purchased the rights to register foreign ships under the Cambodian flag. … According to Mr. Lim Neou, the government sold its authority to register vessels to ISROC, which is based in Busan, South Korea. ISROC paid some $6 million to the government for the right to sell the Cambodian flag to vessels, starting in 2003 until now, Mr. Lim Neou said. … With 200 vessels registered in 2009, Cambodia was the world’s third-largest supplier of a Flag of Convenience, which enable ship owners to avoid paying taxes or complying with international laws and regulations, according to the Environmental Justice Foundation.

Denise Hruby and Kuch Naren