The Ministry of Mines and Energy on Friday defended sand exports reported this week by an environmental NGO, saying Cambodia’s sand ban did not include the type seen in a video being loaded onto vessels off the coast of Sihanoukville.
The video uploaded to the Mother Nature NGO’s Facebook page on Monday — which by Friday had racked up more than 628,000 views — shows the Deryoung Sunflower, a bulk vessel bound for Taiwan, loading sand between Sihanoukville and Koh Rong island on April 29.
The NGO said the work violated the law as the ministry purportedly stopped issuing new dredging and exporting licenses in November amid rising pressure on the government over sand export records showing discrepancies of tens of millions of cubic meters.
After announcing on Tuesday that it would investigate, the ministry on Friday announced that it had found no wrongdoing as the type of sand being offloaded was legally allowed to be exported.
“The day that Mother Nature posted the video is the day that the ship left Cambodia. Deryoung SunFlower came to transport white sand (silica sand), a kind of sand for industrial production of mirrors, glass and bottles,” the statement said.
“The suspension of sand exports abroad remains effective except silica sand as stated in a letter of the ministry,” it said.
The ministry also claimed the sand taken by the Mong Reththy Group, an agro-industrial conglomerate, had been sourced from land in Preah Sihanouk province’s Stung Hav district, not an estuary.
Contacted on Friday, Mr. Reththy said he had “stopped all exports for a long time.”
Exiled Mother Nature director Alex Gonzalez-Davidson refuted the ministry’s claims, saying it “does not seem to get its own lies correctly.”
“Spokesman Meng Saktheara told local media on the 2nd of May 2017 that an investigation by several government agencies showed that no sand transporting ships had even been inside Cambodia, while they are now admitting that there was after all a ship,” he said.
“Secondly, the ban on sand exports in place since November of last year did not speculate any exceptions. That was clear to the millions of Cambodians who were following the issue,” he said.
Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson said he was “not at all surprised” by the ministry’s statement
“Our video has exposed them as not just totally incompetent, but also in cahoots with the cartels that control the sand mining and export,” he said. “Our investigation continues, and we hope to expose them further soon.”