Police and officials from the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology shut down a team of alleged illegal sand dredgers in Kandal province on Saturday.
Authorities confiscated five boats being used to dredge sand from the Bassac river in Sa’ang district – a practice that was temporarily banned in October.
Kheum Chankiri, the district governor, said the dredgers had finally been caught in the act after previous efforts to crack down on them had amounted to nothing.
“According to complaints we received, the group of businesses who owned the ferries and big boats were stealing sand at night and at various times throughout the day when officials were off duty,” he said. “That made it difficult, because we did not have the means to make inspections.”
It wasn’t until Minister of Water Resources and Meteorology Lim Kean Hor led a team of investigators on Saturday to where the dredgers had been operating, in Koh Anlong Chin commune and Kien Svay district’s Kbal Koh commune, that it was determined that they were working without licences and in violation of the government order of October 15.
“The illegal sand-pumping units that were defying the government’s ban were forced by the Secretariat of the Resources Management Committee to cease their activities, said Chan Yutha, a spokesman from Kean Hor’s cabinet.
Those involved in the dredging were charged and released, authorities said.
The government’s ban on dredging in the Mekong and Bassac rivers came two weeks after officials in Kandal confiscated more than 100 sand-pumping systems and 40 boats believed to be unlicensed.
Officials had feared that riverbanks were at risk of collapsing as water levels rose as a result of this year’s deadly flooding.
The October 15 directive excluded one stretch of the Mekong River, from Phnom Penh to Kandal, where the government said dredging contributed to the country’s construction industry.
Authorities have said previously that when done properly, sand dredging has little effect on the rivers, and that they are more concerned with unlicensed activity.