Senior government officials this week promised temporary closure for hotels and restaurants along Sihanoukville’s heavily touristed beachfront that they say are routinely pumping raw sewage into the sea.
The initiative was announced at a meeting of hundreds of government officials on Monday, where Interior Minister Sar Kheng said local officials had a duty to enforce regulations ensuring that the tourism industry grows responsibly and sustainably.
On Thursday, Environment Minister Say Sam Al and Preah Sihanouk provincial governor Chhit Sokhon said the need for action was pressing as evidence showed that hotels and restaurants in Sihanoukville were dumping their untreated waste into coastal waters.
“The government now has a huge sewage system planned for Sihanoukville and we are studying the ways we can implement this,” Mr. Sam Al said, acknowledging that infrastructure had failed to keep pace with development in the tourist town.
“We are going to take real action concerning sewage being poured into the sea,” he said, adding that he visited Sihanoukville this week alongside Tourism Minister Thong Khon and National Police Chief Neth Savoeun to begin enforcement efforts.
Provincial governor Chhit Sokhon said that 56 hotels and 220 guesthouses in Sihanoukville would be inspected for their impact on the environment, with a focus on establishments near the town’s beaches.
“The Ekareach Hotel, the Sokha Hotel…as well as restaurants and many guesthouses along street 502, are pouring their sewage water into the sea,” Mr. Sokhon said, adding that some establishments initially denied pollution complaints when confronted in December.
“We used excavators to dig up the ground in front of their properties and saw the pumps placed underground like fingers—then they acknowledged it,” he said.
Trilok Narain, general manager of the Sokha Beach Resort, said Friday he was surprised to hear the hotel was among those named by the provincial governor.
“I can tell you, we are fully compliant with the regulations,” Mr. Narain said, adding that the resort had its own drainage system and septic tank.
“The Sokha Beach Resort is the cleanest beach not just in Sihanoukville, but in Cambodia,” he said.
The general manager of the Independence Hotel Resort, or Ekareach in Khmer, was travelling in China and unavailable for comment, according to a receptionist at the hotel.
Following Sihanoukville’s entry into the Most Beautiful Bays in the World club in 2011, the government set up the National Committee for Management and Development of Cambodian Coastal Areas to ensure that investors granted construction permits adhered to rules meant to protect the environment.
The committee’s secretary general, Chhoam Narady, could not be reached for comment.
But at a climate change seminar last March, he laid out a new legal framework for coastal management that included new infrastructure obligations, stricter planning rules and a new enforcement policy for polluters.
Much of Sihanoukville’s growing population is not connected to a sewage system. But Mr. Sokhon said infrastructure improvements were either imminent or already underway, and would eventually alleviate the issue of untreated waste contamination.
Hotels and businesses that are granted investment licenses in the tourist hub have a legal obligation to ensure they do not damage the destination’s core assets, he said. But despite this, Mr. Sokhon said many business owners seemed resistant to improving.
“They seem to not want to [change]. But they must do it because they are polluting the [water], and we have told them many times to stop,” he said.
“Now we must require them to [improve] and if they have not done it in a month we will temporarily close them down,” he said. “When they solve this, then they can continue to do their business. No one has a right to dump sewage onto the sea.”