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Scale of dredging revealed

Scale of dredging revealed

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Sand stored on a barge at a dredging operation on the Tatai river in Koh Kong province in May.

The scale of a dredging permit given to ruling party senator Ly Yong Phat was revealed yesterday, one day after Koh Kong businesses complained that fish stocks and eco-tourism projects were suffering due to large-scale sand extraction in the Tatai river.

A copy of the permit obtained by The Post yesterday shows that a concession given to the senator’s LYP Group covers seven separate sites along the Tatai river, totaling 32 square Kilometres. The sites are dotted at roughly equidistant points in a 25-kilometre stretch of river.

In 2009, Prime Minister Hun Sen imposed a total ban on marine dredging for export, except where sand gathered and replenished itself naturally or where build-ups were  obstructing waterways.

Mao Hak, director of rivers at the Ministry of Water Resources, said yesterday that only rivers where sea water flowed into fresh water, replenishing sand naturally, were exempt from the premier’s ban.  

“The law is clear about this. Only the regions where the sand replenishes naturally are allowed to have dredging operations that sell abroad,” he said.

“It was not only me that made the decisions on such permits, but a committee. Samdech [Hun Sen] also knows about this because our committee asks [about] policy from Samdech.”

The licence allows LYP Group to dredge the area until August this year and was signed in September 2010 by the Minister of Industry, Mines and Energy, Suy Sem. Representatives of the ministry could not be reached for comment yesterday.  

Tourism operators and NGOS operating in the area, however, continued yesterday to highlight the damage caused by sand dredging in Tatai river – which sees both salt and fresh water flows.

Valentine Pawlik, co-owner of the 4 Rivers resort on the Tatai river, said that the rate of dredging was so extreme that any effects from sand flushed upstream by sea currents would be inconsequential.  The banks of the rivers near his resort just outside of Tatai town had begun falling in because of operations that started in May. “They are dredging like hell now, last year it wasn’t so bad but now it is just unbelievable,” he said.

John Maloy, spokesman for Wildlife Alliance, said substantive dredging operations in Koh Kong province had also been initiated by Cambodian companies DDML Construction Co Ltd in Trapeang Rung river and Access Co Ltd in the Piphot river near Chi Phat eco-village in January.

He said river banks in Chi Phat had begun collapsing while in Trapeang Rung, a river beach that was set to be marketed as a tourism highlight, had begun to disappear.

“The consequences are two fold. Damage being done to the river can have an effect on the aquatic populations and sedimentation. On the other side these are eco-tourism sites and these are places that they are tying to make people to come and sustain the beauty and to use the river to generate income. Anything that makes this more difficult is not something that we can be pleased with,” he said.

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