A Change of Guard

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Friday, 9 May 2008

Mongolian Ships a Terrorist Threat: US Expert

By Stephen Tucker
The Mongolian government faced thinly veiled criticism yesterday (May 7), accused by an American foreign policy expert of possibly allowing terrorism to flourish through its naval fleet. Despite being the world’s second largest landlocked country, Mongolia has established a significant and growing maritime presence through a base in Singapore over the past several years.J. Peter Pham, director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University and a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, used a Washington Times opinion-piece to criticize Mongolia’s maritime actions.
Pham accused Mongolia of selling a “flag of convenience” to ships with possible terrorist connections. “It seems the Mongolians are flirting with a very risky and dangerous geopolitical game,” he said.
“The Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party believes it can make a quick buck by renting out Mongolia’s national banner as a so-called ‘flag of convenience,’ made available to ship owners who, for whatever reason, don’t want their vessels scrutinized too closely.”The Mongolian government, led by then PM and current President N.Enkhbayar, started the Mongolia Ship Registry five years ago to “provide and promote excellence in registry and marine services,” despite limited local experience in marine services.
Working out of Singapore, the Mongolian government has now registered 73 ships, each with a capacity of at least 1,000 gross tons.A study published last year by US bi-monthly journal Strategic Insights compared flag of convenience registries as the equivalent to offshore financial havens.“(The) system and the layers of corporate ownership and front companies that accompany it, provide a veil of anonymity that allow criminals and terrorists alike to transport all sorts of illicit goods, including possibly an improvised nuclear device,” the article said.The Mongolia Ship Registry is run by a firm owned by Singaporean man Chong Kov Sen, who formerly operated Cambodia’s ship registry until 2002, when its franchise was revoked.
That year, French commandos boarded a Cambodian-flagged vessel under gunfire from the crew, discovering over a ton of cocaine with a street value of US$235 million.Late in 2002, US intelligence alerted Spanish troops that a ship, listed with the Chong Kov Sen-led Cambodian registry, was headed to Yemen with possible weapons. The Spanish found 15 Scud-type missiles and 85 barrels of rocket fuel hidden under cement.
Shortly after the Cambodian license was revoked, the Mongolian government established its own maritime presence using Chong Kov Sen.America has given Mongolia an average of US$12.8 million annually for the last five years, in addition to a US$285 million grant from the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which Pham said raises concerns among American lawmakers.
“Despite receiving millions of dollars from America’s public purse, Mongolia appears to have no problem renting out its flag to weapons proliferators, criminals and other shady figures who endanger the security of the United States and its allies,” Pham’s article said.Aware of these concerns, the Mongolian government last year allowed members of the Proliferation Security Initiative to board and inspect its vessels if they have a “basis for suspicion.”
Pham said, however, this only “marginally lessens the risk” and used the article to pressure US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to assess if Mongolia is allowing its maritime fleet to become a terrorist threat.

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