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Sand dredgers back in Koh Kong

Ships have reportedly bolstered operations in area, and there are also concerns on the Mekong

SAND-DREDGERS have resumed large-scale operations in Koh Kong province’s salt-water estuaries since June 2 after a drop-off in dredging activities as a result of a sand-export ban last year, local fishermen said Tuesday.

Matt Sen, a 47-year-old fisherman from Village 4 in Smach Meanchey district’s Dong Tung commune, said Tuesday that about 10 transport ships are now waiting in the ocean to transport sand offshore.

He added that fishermen were using around 8 litres of gasoline per day in order to access deepwater areas where the fish are still plentiful, and blamed the dredgers for fish declines in shallow areas.

“I don’t know about the environmental impact. I only know that when there are sand-dredging companies in the sea there are no fish,” he said.

Last month, London-based watchdog Global Witness released a report on Cambodia’s sand trade that said that up to 796,000 tonnes of sand was being removed from Koh Kong each month.

The group estimates that the annual value of these shipments is US$28.7 million in Cambodia and $248 million once the sand reaches Singapore, and that the trade is being conducted with little regard for international standards or local laws.

Last month, fishermen and local officials told the Post that dredging – including one large-scale operation run jointly by Hong Kong’s Winton Enterprises and the local LYP Group – had stopped in the area following the sand-export ban, which was announced by Prime Minister Hun Sen in May and July of last year.

Pech Siyon, director of the Koh Kong provincial Department of Industry, Mines and Energy, also said last month that only one company, Udom Seima Trading, was dredging in the area. He added that the LYP/Winton operation had shut down pending the renewal of its sand-export licence.

When contacted Tuesday, he denied the fishermen’s claims that dredging had increased, saying the situation remained unchanged.

“I have no information about whether the company will have its licence for export renewed or not, but the sand-dredging companies are still operating as normal,” he said.

Fresh dredging concerns have also been raised by villagers living along the Mekong River in Kandal province’s Khsach Kandal district.

On Sunday, around 200 villagers from Chong Koh village protested against operations that they say are eroding riverbanks and threatening farmland.

Khsach Kandal Governor Kong Sophon said an unnamed sand company had received a dredging licence from the government, but that some of its operations had been undertaken in areas where dredging was not permitted

“Our local authorities, village representatives and the company will meet tomorrow to resolve the complaints filed by the villagers,” he said.

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