Authorities sent 16 people aboard a foreign tanker to court on Tuesday after the ship entered Cambodian waters bearing the Cambodian flag, despite the government repealing its “flag of convenience” scheme five years ago.
Deputy National Police Commissioner General Teng Suon told VOD that the ship, a tanker identified as the Courageous, illegally entered Cambodian waters last Wednesday. The ship was registered as a Cameroon-flagged vessel, but Suon confirmed that the ship was flying a Cambodian flag when it entered the nation’s waters.
The 16-member crew, including 12 Burmese and four Indonesians, were being questioned at the Preah Sihanouk Provincial Court, Suon said. Deputy court prosecutor Lim Bunheng said the prosecutor had received the case, but no charges had been brought.
The National Police said in a statement on Sunday that the Courageous left Taiwan’s Kaohsiung port on February 15, docked in Cambodia’s maritime territory on Wednesday and was discovered by authorities on Thursday.
According to the statement, the Courageous was accused of making a ship-to-ship transfer with a North Korean vessel, in violation of a 2017 U.N. Security Council resolution banning sales and supply of all refined petroleum, natural gas, crude oil and other goods between North Korea and U.N. member states.
Suon did not answer questions on Tuesday about the ship’s relations with North Korea, but he said on Monday that authorities “assumed” the ship was involved in trade with the country, however, they were still questioning the crew at the time.
“The illegal ship always has everything on hand to be ready to confuse and mislead the authorities working along the maritime border,” Suon said on Tuesday.
According to vessel tracking website FleetMon, the Courageous had four previous names, including Sea Prima and Blue Sea, linked to its permanent International Maritime Organization (IMO) number, and had carried the flags of Cameroon, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Singapore and Panama since it was constructed in 1987. The site said the Courageous was managed and owned by New Eastern Shipping Co. Ltd. based in the Chinese port city of Xiamen.
Another ship tracking website said a tanker with the same IMO number, but named Sea Prima and carrying a Saint Kitts and Nevis flag, last made port in Kaohsiung on February 2, 2019.
Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said the ship would be dealt with according to the law.
Cambodia announced the end of its “flag of convenience” scheme in 2015, a lucrative program that allowed foreign merchants to register ships under Cambodia’s flag in order to evade restrictions and hefty charges in their home countries.
Officials in 2016 said that the government made the decision because Cambodia lacked the capacity to monitor illegal activities at sea, but the Phnom Penh Post reported in 2017 that at least 19 foreign vessels were still flying Cambodian flags more than a year after the government said foreign ships would be stripped of their Cambodian designation.
Political analyst Em Sovannara said a country has the right to detain a ship entering its territory without permission. He also recalled the nation’s history of lending its flag to foreign vessels.
“In the past, Cambodia gave licenses to many foreign ships to register for Cambodian flags, and Cambodia cannot control all of those ships that commit illegal activities,” Sovannara said. “Sometimes, ships fly a Cameroon flag, but it is not guaranteed whether the company is listed [in Cameroon] or belongs to the Cameroon state.”