The Ministry of Mines and Energy yesterday said it was investigating potential irregularities in the export of sand after a video from the NGO Mother Nature claiming that banned exports continued unabated went viral yesterday, racking up hundreds of thousands of views.
While the ministry maintained that the sand seen in the video was likely not subject to the ban, it added that it would look into other apparent irregularities related to the export permits.
The export of most mined sand was banned by the government last November after controversy erupted surrounding huge discrepancies between the government’s recorded sand exports, and recorded imports of Cambodian sand to Singapore. However, the Mother Nature video, which was purportedly taken on April 29, shows what appears to be white sand being loaded from a boat onto a larger ship off of Sihanoukville.
The video, which was posted Monday night, had been viewed by 425,000 people and shared nearly 28,000 times as of yesterday evening. “Minister of Mines and Energy [Suy Sem], was the ban on all sand exports put in place to benefit Cambodia and its people, or was it just a plot aimed at fooling Cambodians so that powerful individuals could continue destroying local livelihoods and our nation’s natural resources?” 27-year-old Mother Nature activist Lim Kimsor asks in the video.
The Ministry of Mines and Energy yesterday morning deployed two teams to the coastal areas off Preah Sihanouk and Koh Kong provinces, said spokesman Meng Saktheara. He added that ministry officials were “disappointed” because Mother Nature didn’t inform them promptly when they were filming. “We can’t confirm that the activity in the video by Mother Nature is legal or not because we don’t have information on the name of the ship and exact location,” he said. “The ministry will continue to investigate this case.”
He added that based on the colour of the sand in the video, it is “very likely” to be silica sand, which is mined on land for the glass industry and is exempt from the ban on sand exports.
Mong Reththy Group Co Ltd and Silica Services Cambodge are the only two companies licensed to mine and export silica sand, Saktheara said.
The latest export permits approved by the ministry include one granted on April 5, and valid through May 5, for the Mong Reththy Group to export 2,500 tonnes from its private port on a ship identified as Rattanawanich 1.
Another permit was granted on April 10, valid through May 1, for Silica Services Cambodge to export 10,000 tonnes of silica from the Koh Kong Port on a ship identified as Efficiency OL, according to records.
But Kimsor said the vessel in the video was called Deryoung Sunflower, and a second ship they spotted, which started moving yesterday afternoon also loaded with sand, was named Ocean Beauty.
The Mong Reththy Group informed the ministry it had completed its exporting on April 10. Meanwhile, the fact that the ship in the video was spotted in Sihanoukville makes it unlikely it was departing from the faraway Koh Kong Port, where Silica Services Cambodge’s exports were approved to depart.
Ros Vanna, head of the Kampuchea Shipping Agency and Brokers, also known as Kamsab, which grants customs clearance to foreign ships, declined to answer questions yesterday regarding the ships indentified by Mother Nature.
A representative at Taiwan-based shipping agency D&S Co Ltd confirmed that the company owns the 12,000-tonne Deryoung Sunflower ship, but declined to comment further.
Alex Gonzalez-Davidson, founder of Mother Nature, said the message his NGO was trying to send was twofold: First, that “government officials regulating exports of sand are incapable and unwilling to enforce the law and existing regulations”, and second, that others should get involved to monitor and expose potential crimes.
Additional reporting by Jovina Chua