17 February 2009

Singapore's sandy footprint

For the last year, the Cambodian provinces of Koh Kong and Kandal have seen heavy traffic of dozens of boats to dredge the seabed or dig along the coasts to collect as much sand as possible and export it to Singapore.
Reclamation at Pasir Panjang Container Port
A recent photo of reclamation at Pasir Panjang Container Terminal.

Ka-set, an independent news website about Cambodia and Cambodians abroad reports on the situation.

In its report “Country for Sale ” made public on Thursday February 5th, Global Witness, an NGO specialised in monitoring natural resource management and campaigning on human rights, devotes three pages to the opacity which it says surrounds the trade of sand in Cambodia.

Several witnesses interrogated by the organisation have thus reported that many ships belonging to Chinese, Korean or Taiwanese companies, came to purchase sand off the coasts of Koh Kong province, with the intention for all to export it to Singapore.

The organisation spoke to workers who reportedly claimed that documents, contracts and payments were all directed to the office of Ly Yong Phat, a Senator affiliated with the ruling party CPP who dominates business enterprise in the province and is often criticised by human rights organisations for the forced evictions of residents from the many lands he has acquired.

“I completely refute the allegations from Global Witness,” Ly Yong Phat replied in a telephone interview to Ka-set. “The government has granted me this concession for sand mining, so it is normal that I am the referee. Besides, I am not the only one responsible, there is also another person. I am in charge of the area of Koh Pao and Svay Ambel rivers, and since I started to be in charge of the mining, floods have stopped happening. I even denied authorisation to a Thai company because there was not enough sand... I think exports in the province do not exceed 4,000 tonnes a month.”

Also contacted by Ka-set, Pech Siyon, head of the industry office in Koh Kong, estimates the quantity of sand dredged around Koh Kong province to be between 7,000 and 8,000 tonnes a week.

Global Witness estimates that nearly 15,000 tonnes of sand are exported each week... which would mean an annual revenue of 8.6 million dollars for the sand industry in Koh Kong province.

Another source of concern is the risk that the intensive pumping might endanger deep-sea ecosystems. Following the example of the disappearance and collapse of islands in Indonesia, Cambodia unfortunately seems to also suffer from the intensive sand dredging.

Full article on Ka-set and on the wildsingapore news blog.

Sand dredging ships impounded in Sihanoukville
Sam rith and Sebastian The Phnom Penh Post 24 Feb 09;
AUTHORITIES have impounded two Cambodian sand-dredging vessels off the coast of Preah Sihanouk province, according to fisheries officials who say the company operating the ships lacked the necessary permission.

Fisheries Administration director Nao Thuok said that the company, whose name he could not recall, operated legally in Koh Kong province, but that authorities cracked down when it was found that it was dredging without a licence off Sihanoukville.

"The company ... came to Sihanoukville to dredge, and [the ships] were confiscated," he said, adding that an investigation into its activities was currently under way.

Doung Sam Ath, director of the Preah Sihanouk Fisheries Administration, said that the vessels were confiscated two weeks ago - and a local businessman fined 6.5 million riels (US$1,577.28) - for dredging sand in Stung Hav district without permission from the Ministry of Water Resources.

"We have already fined him and stopped him doing business until he obtains the proper legal documents," he said.

The confiscation of the vessels comes amid increasing sand mining activity along the Kingdom's coastline, raising concerns about the impacts of dredging the sea bed.

Kev Wa, executive director of Environmental Watch and Protection in Cambodia, a Koh Kong-based watchdog, said that "millions of tonnes" of sand had been pulled out of the sea in recent months, citing the possible impacts on "fish species, sea grass and coral reefs".

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