Flag of infamy back in the headlines

One of the world’s most notorious shipping flags is back in the headlines. Despite the Cambodian government officially rescinding its shipping register 13 months ago, the Phnom Penh Post reports at least 19 foreign-owned vessels are still flying the red and blue flag.

The Cambodian register gained infamy for hosting many substandard ships. It was notorious as the flag of choice for arms smugglers, drug dealers and human traffickers, as well as being favoured by the Kim regime in North Korea.

It was originally administered by a South Korean firm, then a Singaporean outfit took it over before the government moved to shutter it last year. However, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has questioned whether the government has officially alerted ports around the world as to its closure.

“We have not seen any official withdrawal of the register or notice that it is no longer operative, which is surprising if the government is serious about stopping the register to be used as a flag of convenience,” Jacqueline Smith, maritime coordinator for the ITF told the Phnom Penh Post. “So unless the government has . . . sent out an official notice, then many ports will continue to allow vessels in.”

The Cambodian flag is back in the news as a UN investigation has just detailed how the largest haul of North Korean ammunition was intercepted last year.

The bulker Jie Shun was detained in Egyptian waters in August last year after sailing under Cambodian colours.

Custom agents discovered more than 30,000 rocket-propelled grenades onboard the ship, which were ultimately destined for the Egyptian military.

The issue of nations not being 100% in control of their own flags was highlighted by the IMO’s director of the legal and external affairs division, Fred Kenney, at a conference in London last month.

Kenney reported how around 10 flag states had revealed they had ships on their books that they had no idea about, registered from fake offices. As an example, he cited the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which had 90 ships flying its flag that it had not officially registered.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.
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