Counter-Terrorism: March 9, 2005


The war on terror is often a police operation. This means that you soon find that you have a list of the usual suspects. One of the strangest of those is the Cambodian merchant marine. For example, the mysterious freighter that took on an unknown load in North Korea recently, and is bound for an uncertain destination, seems to have a Cambodian registry. Cambodia only has 211 vessels registered that are 1000 tons (GRT) or larger. One would think that keeping track of them would be easy, but the Cambodians have been having trouble for quite a while. In the early '90s the Cambodia Shipping Corp., with offices in Phnom Penh and Singapore, was given a contract by the Cambodian government to handle its ship registration. The company offered online registration, which made it easy to register a ship, with minimal verification of their ownership or condition. This turned out badly. Cambodian registered ships were soon being caught hauling cocaine, prostitutes, and sundry other shady cargoes. And then there were the numerous accidents (a dozen in 2001 alone). In 2002, nine Cambodian registered vessels were barred from calling at European ports, out of a total of 66 sub-standard vessels of all types (oil tankers, bulk carriers, chemical tankers, passenger), from all nations that were blacklisted (Turkey came it at 26 and St. Vincent at 12). In the first four months of 2002, Cambodian flag vessels accounted for nearly 15 percent of the 332 ship detentions by Japanese port authorities. The Cambodians also began to worry about the possibility that a ship bearing their registry might be used in a terrorist attack, or to transport terrorists, thereby angering such aid donors like the U.S., Japan, and China. Therefore, beginning that same year, the government began trying to get rid of ships of dubious lineage. Meanwhile, Cambodian merchant ships continue to attract well deserved scrutiny from navies and coast guards involved in counter-terrorism work.


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