On March 16-17, a specialised team from the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) found and retrieved nearly 200 pieces of unexploded ordnance (UXO) from a sunken warship in the Mekong River in Prey Veng province’s Peam Chor district.

CMAC director-general Heng Ratana told The Post on March 20 that most of the ammunition found and retrieved during the two-day operation was still operational. The shells were 76mm, 29mm and 100mm calibres.

He said the ammunition was transported by ship across the Mekong from Vietnam to be used in the war in Cambodia between 1970 and 1975. The vessel was presumably sunk because Khmer Rouge forces had attempted to capture the ammunition. Lon Nol’s forces, backed by US aid, sank the ship to deny the munitions to the Khmer Rouge fighters.

“Our team found large parts of the ship that had separated from the main structure, so they concluded that the ship was blown up before it sank,” he said.

Ratana said Cambodia faces many challenges related to UXO – both in the water and on the land – due to the wars which lasted more than 30 years. More time is needed to locate and remove all of them.

So far, his specialist team have collected more than four million UXOs on land and in the Kingdom’s waterways.

The operation was guided by the principles of Prime Minister Hun Sen and Minister of Interior Sar Kheng in order to ensure public safety across the country.

On August 28, 2020, Hun Sen set up an inter-ministerial working group tasked with locating UXOs which remained in the Mekong River.

According to a series of reports by specialist teams, the presence of sunken warships – and the threat of underwater UXOs that go along with them – has been discovered in five locations. Work has concluded at the first location in Kampong Cham province’s Srey Santhor district.

The four active sites are in Kandal province’s Lvea Em and Khsach Kandal districts, and Prey Veng province’s Peam Chor and Peam Ro districts.