An activist and villagers yesterday said that sand dredging boats had been spotted off the coast of Koh Kong, prompting fears that they were set to begin operations, despite a standing ban on sand exports from companies operating in coastal areas.
The dredging vessels were spotted in the vicinity of a sand-processing facility currently under construction in the province, and in an area where two companies were given approval to conduct environmental impact assessments for sand dredging projects.
Alex Gonzalez-Davidson, a co-founder of NGO Mother Nature, said that his organisation had heard on Saturday that a crane, used for extracting sand, was being fixed at the facility under construction, and that a boat, used to transport sand, had anchored there as well.
Mut Sopha, a community representative from Koh Salao village in Koh Kong district, said after hearing similar information from other villagers, she went to the site yesterday and saw the sand dredging equipment and the boat stationed there.
However, she added, she did not see any sand dredging activities taking place when she was at the site during the day.
“We have a lot of concern if they really start dredging activities,” she said. “It affects the community nearby . . . When they start washing the sand, [the] water will get dirty and [will] kill life in the water.”
She also noted that dredging could destroy nearby mangrove forests.
Sopha said on December 6, 2016, Minister of Mines and Energy Suy Sem promised local villagers that there would no longer be any sand dredging in Koh Kong.
Last year, the Mines Ministry temporarily suspended sand exports after controversy erupted over the discrepancy between the $5 million of sand exports to Singapore that Cambodia had recorded from 2007 to 2015, and the $752 million that the city-state had recorded as imports from the Kingdom.
Meng Saktheara, secretary of state at the Ministry of Mines and Energy, said he was abroad, but didn’t believe the ministry was aware of this new activity. He said he would ask the provincial Department of Mines and Energy to check the case.
“Any sand dredging operation in the area will face legal actions,” he said.
Udom Seima Peanich Industry & Mine Co Ltd and SCTWN Development Co Ltd – the companies that were given approval by authorities, including the Ministry of Environment, to conduct EIAs for sand dredging projects in Koh Kong’s Trapaing Roung and Tatay Krom communes – didn’t respond to request for comment or couldn’t be reached.