“Sometimes, those Cambodian-flagged vessels occasionally fish in wrong places, but then they are arrested... We are not able to control those fishing boats and ships since they fish in the open high seas, so how could we control them? We cannot afford to install long-distance monitoring systems.”
Chairman of the Council of Ministers Committee for Ship Registry Seng Lim Neou
Seng Lim Neou is right that the government has no longer controlled fishing boats carrying Cambodian flag. It has sold its authority to register vessels to the International Ship Registry of Cambodia (ISROC), a private foreign company based in Busan, Korea.
No one really knows how many ships are flying Cambodian national flag in the open sea. Seng Lim Neou claims there only six ships in the world; Llyod’s Register of Shipping documents 144 in 2013; the World Register of Shipping 150; and in June 2013 the Cambodian government, 84. Take your pick.
Money is another thing that only a few know. ISROC pays the Cambodian government a cool sum of $6 million for the Cambodian registry right, and charges a fee to those vessels that want to use the Cambodian flag for anything, including misusing and abusing it. It is not certain who is the recipient of the $6 million, but the Cambodia Daily claims the 2013 nation budget does not account for it.
Anyway, as these Cambodian-flagged vessels have carried on illegal fishing activities in the open sea, the EU now bans all seafood imports from Cambodia after several warnings. The ban may or may not be commercially devastating the local seafood industry.
However, this is not the first time Cambodia image has been dragged through mud. Until 2002, then secretary of state for the Ministry of Commerce Khek Ravy received $16,000 per month to a total sum of $1.5 million from private firm Cambodian Shipping Corp. (CSC) which bought the ship registry right at the time. His brother chaired the company. The license was then cancelled after Cambodian-flagged vessels were involved in criminal activities like smuggling of cocaine and missile technology. And now illegal fishing.
It may be a good idea to let someone personalise the ship registry right, but where is the money?