Large-scale sand dredging has resumed in coastal areas of Koh Kong province following a three-month halt in the controversial operations late last year, officials said yesterday.
The dredging, which began in Koh Kong in 2008, has long drawn criticism from local and international rights groups, who claim it is causing environmental damage and impacting on the livelihoods of local fishermen.
Pech Siyon, director of the provincial Department of Industry, Mines and Energy, said yesterday that dredging recommenced in early November after the last licensed company wound down operations in August citing a lack of demand in Singapore.
Pech Siyon said four local companies – which he named as LYP Group, Udom Seima Trading, the International Singapore Company and the Direct Action Company – are currently involved in exporting “at least” 2,000 cubic metres of “selected sands” to Singapore every week.
“We can’t stop these local companies from dredging sand in Koh Kong province, because they have received licenses from the Royal Government of Cambodia to do this activity in the province,” he said.
Pech Siyon said there was no compelling reason to shut the companies down, saying that their activities “have not impacted the environment in the area”.
In May, anti-graft watchdog Global Witness reported that up to 796,000 tonnes of sand were being removed from Koh Kong each month and sent to Singapore, where it is used in construction and reclamation projects.
The group concluded that the trade is being conducted with little regard for international standards or local laws, and argued that the booming trade had destroyed livelihoods and threatened marine ecosystems.
In an emailed statement yesterday, Global Witness campaigner George Boden said the organisation was not aware the Cambodian government had formally resumed sand dredging along Cambodia’s coast.
“If this has happened”, he said, “then we hope that this decision was based on a thorough analysis of the environmental and social concerns raised by our research”.
Neang Boratino, Koh Kong provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said yesterday that about 200 families supported by small-scale fishing operations in Koh Kong province had been adversely affected by the dredging.
“The dredging activities of these companies have really impacted on local fishermen’s daily businesses, local environments and biodiversity in these areas,” he said.
“I am now afraid that if they continue these dredging activities in the province, natural resources and biodiversity will be completely destroyed and those people who are dependent on fishing as an occupation will lose their jobs.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY BROOKE LEWIS