A government committee has ordered tycoon Kith Meng’s Royal Group to stop construction of a passenger port it was building on Sihanoukville’s Otres Beach, which it said was in clear violation of coastal development guidelines and had progressed without a permit.
The National Committee for Cambodia Coastal Management and Development issued a directive yesterday for the Cambodian conglomerate to cease construction of the 40 metre by 15 metre dock that was to be used to ferry passengers to a luxury resort the group is developing on Koh Rong island, 25 kilometres offshore in the Gulf of Thailand. The directive instructed provincial authorities to dismantle the unlicensed structure and oversee the return of the beach to its pristine state.
“The Preah Sihanouk governor is requested to advise the Royal Group to stop construction and restore the area to its original condition,” the announcement reads.
The company will now have to find a new location for the port, ensuring minimal impact to the tourist-friendly beach, and obtain prior permission before going ahead with construction, the announcement says.
According to Sihanoukville City Governor Y Sokleng, the committee had previously given Royal Group two potential locations to build the port – one near the Sihanoukville Autonomous Port and the other in the Tom Nop Rolok district. He said Royal Group had requested instead to construct the port at Otres Beach, and went ahead with construction without waiting for the committee to respond.
“The construction was already 30 to 40 per cent completed, and a meeting will be held to discuss how to demolish the structure,” Sokleng said.
The committee will also look at other illegal constructions in the coastal city and decide the next course of action, he added.
Last November, the government vowed to crack down on coastal hotels and resorts that restricted public access to beaches or constructed illegal encroachments within 50 metres of the shoreline. At the time, Tourism Minister Thong Khon warned that his ministry would give private companies a deadline to remove any fences or constructions that violate a government directive that ensures all beaches in the Kingdom remain public property.
In a Facebook post on January 17, Prime Minister Hun Sen, who visited the city for a holiday late last month, asked local authorities to ensure that there was no illegal construction activity along the beach.
Yun Min, governor of Preah Sihanouk province, said the sole authority to grant permission for coastal construction lay with the national committee, chaired by the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, and that provincial authorities were not authorised to make the call.
“They [Royal Group] cannot build on the area, because I know the committee said the area was for tourist activity, as well as a dolphin zone,” he said. “Any construction or boat traffic is not allowed there based on our master plan.”
Ho Vandy, an adviser for the tourism industry to the Cambodia Chamber of Commerce, said the action was a positive step by the authorities who were following the law and similar steps should be taken with other illegal constructions as well.
“People need to accept this and participate. This action is not only for them [Royal Group],” he said. “If there is an action taken today, then there will be action taken for all.”
Vandy added that the government intervened at the right time as construction was proceeding swiftly. If it had hesitated, it would have been more difficult to take corrective measures.
In 2008, the Cambodian government granted the Royal Group a 99-year concession to develop Koh Rong island. Last December, the group and its, in partnership with a Thailand-based Swiss investor, announced plans to build a $40 million, 148-room five-star hotel on the island, scheduled for completion by December 2016.
Preah Sihanouk province received 1.5 million tourists last year. The Kingdom’s premiere beach destination has seen increasing interest from foreign travellers, reporting 400,000 foreign tourists last year, compared to 360,000 in 2014.
Royal Group did not respond to phone calls yesterday.