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Stinking out Sihanoukville

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A person walks down a beach at sunset in Preah Sihanouk province’s Sihanoukville town in February.

I don’t know from where the sewage has flowed from ... but [the smell] is too foul to endure

A one-kilometre-wide slick of foul-smelling black waste water lingering off the coast of Sihanoukville’s prominent Ochheuteal and Otres tourist beaches has prompted authorities to launch an investigation and urgent containment procedures, officials said yesterday.

Preah Sihanouk governor Sboang Sarath said yesterday the contaminated water had started flowing through the Prek Damnak canal about five days ago, seriously impacting sea water quality in the area
“On Sunday, I ordered the relevant authorities to inspect and take urgent action to prevent [the water] spreading,” he said.

Nop Heng, director for the Preah Sihanouk Department of Public Works and Transportation said the contaminated water could have serious environmental consequences and was currently lying in a large slick about 200 metres from the shoreline.

“Sewage and foul smells can affect the environment and biodiversity, especially causing a loss of water quality,” he said.

He declined to comment on any potential health impacts of the contaminated water until the results of samples taken on Sunday had been assessed

The precise source of the contaminated water remained a matter of speculation yesterday, but the impacts for the local tourism industry were unanimously recognised.

Mak Samrith, a resident of Sihanoukville’s Commune IV, said yesterday it was common place for people in the area to discharge domestic waste water into the ocean but that did not cause the sea to turn “such an awful black”.

“I don’t know from where the sewage has flowed from, but it is too foul to endure. The foul smell is similar to the smell of beer,” he said.

Sboang Sarath said that only 30 or 40 percent of residents and business had paid to get connected to a 17-hectare US$11 million Asian Development Bank funded water-treatment system, leading to a consistent flow of excrement into the sea.

Lee Derlander, manager of the Monkey Republic guesthouse, which lies near the beach, said exorbitant fees had stopped business owners from connecting to the water filtration system which was sorely needed to stop sewage being pumped into the beach.  

“A lot of places aren’t connected to the main sewage but I know the waste water departments are trying to connect people but their typical fees are around 1,000 bucks to connect. I don’t know if they have any legal power to make people connect and that’s the problem I think,” he said.

“But I have noticed that grey and brown patches [of filth] are coming up through the sand which generally indicates sewage.”  

The ADB said they were unable to comment by press time yesterday.  

Sboang Sarath added such outbreaks of contaminated water threatened the future tourism potential of the area.

That concern was echoed by local tourist operators yesterday who said the stench of the waste water was driving customers away.

Cheng Cham Reun, a receptionist at the Queen Hill Resort, which lies betweeen Otres and Ochheuteal beach, said yesterday the waste water had turned the blue seawater that attracted tourist to the resort into a foul-smelling black liquid.

“My guests leave before their due date because of the foul smell and contaminated sea water, causing them not to dare to swim or bathe,” he said.

“It gives them [visiting tourists] bad skin and they are sick when they swim. It has happened before, one or two days at a time, but this time it is a long time.”

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