Cambodian River Sand Turns Up in India—Again

Nearly 80,000 tons of Cambodian river sand has been sitting at a seaport in India for nearly two months, the second haul to turn up there in two years, despite a 2009 ban on the export of river sand handed down by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The Times of India reported Tuesday that the sand has been held in the southern Indian port city of Cochin for the past two months. The importer, Chennai-based Titanics India Ltd., said the sand passed through customs without any problems, but that the company was having trouble finding buyers, the Times reported.

“[W]e are not clear why the sale is not happening despite the huge demand in Kerala,” Captain Senthilkumar of Titanics India told the Times, referring to the nearby city the port serves. “May be [sic] some local sand mafia is scuttling the trade inquiries.”

A Cochin Port official, who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media, said Thursday that the port received two ships carrying the Cambodian sand imported by Titanics India over the past two months: a 38,750-ton shipment at the end of August and a second 39,000-ton load about a month later. He added that some of the sand had since been moved into warehouses, but that about 50,000 tons remained in berth.

“They told us they can’t find buyers,” the official said. “I don’t know about this sand mafia. I think it is rumors.”

The official said both ships’ cargo is listed as “industrial river sand” that originated in Cambodia and has been designated for use in construction, but the exporter is not named.

Mr. Hun Sen banned the export of sand dredged from rivers in 2009, ostensibly to protect aquatic biodiversity.

Ith Praing, secretary of state at the Ministry of Mines and Energy, confirmed that dredging river sand for export is still illegal, but said companies are permitted to export sand collected from streams, provided they have a license.

In November 2013, Indian media reported that 32,000 tons of Cambodian river sand worth about $1.5 million had been held by customs at the Cochin Port for more than six months.

According to the port official, this sand has now passed through customs, but the importer, Raja Steel Private Ltd., is also struggling to find a buyer.

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