A huge haul of river sand dredged in Cambodia has been quarantined at the southern Indian port city of Cochin since its arrival in April despite a ban on sand exports instituted by Prime Minister Hun Sen in 2009.
India’s Deccan Chronicle newspaper reported on Tuesday that a shipment of river sand imported from Cambodia by Indian company Raja Steel Private Ltd. has been sitting in the docks of Cochin for the past six months, having been repeatedly denied customs clearance.
“More than 32,000 tonnes of sand imported from Cambodia remains dumped at the Cochin Port for more than six months,” the report says, citing fears that the piles of sand could “cause ecological impacts as they could contain microorganisms or other biological materials.”
A Times of India report published in June says the consignment of sand is worth about $1.5 million.
Mr. Hun Sen banned the export of dredged sand in what was deemed an effort to protect aquatic biodiversity, but the ban excludes areas where sand is obstructing waterways.
Minister of Water Resources and Meteorology Lim Kean Hor confirmed Thursday that the export ban is still in place.
“The ban has not yet lifted,” Mr. Kean Hor said. “There are few places where small-scale dredging of sand is allowed because it would affect construction, for example, but dredging for export is totally prohibited.”
A judgment issued by the High Court of India’s Kerala State on August 7, in a case brought by Raja Steel over the decision to deny customs clearance for the sand received on April 19, identifies the source of the sand as Koh Kong province.
Raja Steel “imported ‘construction sand’ (nearly 31,333.71 [metric tons]) extracted from the river Koh Kong in Cambodia, which was brought to the Cochin Port by the vessel Hongxin Blue Sea,” the judgment says.
A collection of videos posted to YouTube in March and April this year under the name Zhuang Yong shows river sand being dredged onto a ship that is identified in a video title as the Hongxin Blue Sea ship.
A caption on one video identifies the location of the dredging operation as Koh Kong’s Sre Ambel district.
Contacted on Wednesday on a telephone number linked to the YouTube account, Mr. Yong confirmed that he worked for a sand dredging firm in Koh Kong province. However, Mr. Yong declined to identify the name of the company he worked for and referred questions to LYP Group.
LYP is owned by prominent businessman and CPP Senator Ly Yong Phat. Despite the sand export ban, LYP was issued a license in September 2010 to dredge sand from Koh Kong’s Tatai River.
Neither Mr. Yong Phat nor his assistant could be reached for comment Thursday.
The legality of LYP’s dredging in Koh Kong has been a source of uncertainty since the firm was granted its license a little over a year after Mr. Hun Sen’s export ban.
On July 16, 2011, the Water Resources Ministry ordered LYP to stop dredging on the Tatai so that it could conduct a review of its operations. The Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy later that month issued a 12-month extension on LYP’s dredging license, rendering it valid until September 2012.
Mr. Kean Hor claimed that all sand dredging operations in Koh Kong province had ceased after the expiration of LYP’s license.
“Basically, there is no more sand dredging there and [Mr. Yong Phat’s] license expired a long time ago and the dredging has stopped since the ban was issued,” he said.
A Times of India report published in September says that Raja Steel plans to import about 200,000 metric tons of river sand to India each year due to a ban on all sand dredging put in place by Kerala state in 2009.
The report quotes M. Raja, the firm’s managing director, as saying that due to the problems faced with importing sand directly from Cambodia, Raja Steel “now actually have [to] import orders for Cambodian sand from another country.”
Mr. Raja did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday regarding the Cambodian source of the firm’s sand.
(Additional reporting by Mech Dara)