Yoram Cohen, the visionary founder of the Liberia Shipping and Corporate Registry (LISCR) who oversaw the phenomenal rise of the Liberian Flag Registry into the world's best, fastest-growing, and second-largest following its decline during the civil war, has died.
Cohen, who is the founder and Chairman Emeritus of LISCR, passed on March 4, after a protracted illness.
He was regarded as a business tycoon and senior statesman in Liberia as he was instrumental in the national economic reconstruction following the civil conflict.
Cohen is credited for resurrecting Liberia’s maritime program in the early 2000s, leading its transformation into becoming the renowned industry leader that it is today. He also established Cellcom Telecommunications Corporation, now Orange, which caused the mobile telephony sector to be de-monopolized.
President George Weah described the fallen business giant as a long-time friend of Liberia who contributed immensely to the growth of the country's maritime sector.
“As the agent for the country, Cohen's leadership saw the phenomenal rise of the Liberian Flag Registry into the world's best, fastest-growing, and second-largest following its decline during the civil war,” Weah said in a tribute.
“He was also a strong believer in the potential of Liberian youth to help shape the country's future and was one of the visionaries of the rejuvenation of the Liberia Maritime Training Institute.”
However, Cohen and his family had run LISCR on an open registry policy — known as a “flag of convenience” — which does not require a ship’s owner or crew to be Liberian, attracting vessels seeking lower taxes and wage requirements than in their home countries.
Seafarers’ unions view the system as a means for ships to skirt labor regulations and mask their true ownership.
LISCR also played a controversial role during the bloody regime of former Liberian president Charles Taylor, whose war crimes conviction by the U.N. Special Court for Sierra Leone was upheld last month. As a major source of revenue for Liberia when Taylor was in power, the company came under close scrutiny by both the United Nations and U.S. officials, who were concerned about how the revenue it turned over to the government was being used, according to interviews and public documents.
Liberia’s shipping registry has been administered by an American company since its inception after World War II, when former secretary of state Edward R. Stettinius Jr. helped set it up as a way to steer revenue to a staunch U.S. ally in Africa. A company founded by Stettinius, eventually known as International Registries Inc. (IRI), ran the registry until Taylor rose to power.
After Taylor was democratically elected in 1997, his administration hired Washington attorney Lester Hyman to be its U.S. counsel, according to foreign agent registration records filed with the Justice Department. Among Hyman’s tasks: to replace IRI, which by then was also running the Marshall Islands shipping registry, a rival flag.
Taylor “wanted to get another group that he thought would play fair,” Hyman said.
Hyman, who was paid more than $600,000 by Liberia, ended up getting the concession himself after he formed LISCR with Cohen, a business consultant he knew through his law firm. Taylor signed off on the agreement in 1999 and LISCR took over the registry the following year.
During Taylor’s regime, the registry provided Liberia a steady source of revenue, even as the United Nations placed new sanctions on the country and evidence built that Taylor was backing a rebel group waging a vicious war in neighboring Sierra Leone.
Meanwhile, the Cohen's sons -- Adam and Elan Cohen -- in a statement noted that “while we have ultimately been leading and managing the Company for many years now, we sorely miss our father’s incredible knowledge and ingenuity.”
“We are so proud of what he built and his tremendous contributions to Liberia. He was a lion and we are dedicated to continuing and preserving his ferocious zeal, dedication to Liberia, and legacy.”
“Cohen was a remarkable driver of Liberia’s economic stabilization. His founding of Cellcom helped create a vibrant telecommunications industry that benefits thousands of Liberians to this day,” Children said.
It added that Cohen was widely admired for his commitment to Liberia and for the many opportunities that he created for local Liberians and was regularly sought after by Liberia’s national leadership to advise and provide counsel due to his sharp intuition as well as his famously infectious raw sense of humor.
“Cohen will be missed by the many colleagues and employees that he mentored and helped develop. He was known for being authentic and original. His passing is a loss to Liberia and to all those that knew him.”