Riverbank Collapse Prompts Freeze on Dredging

The government has suspended all river-dredging operations in the wake of last week’s river embankment collapse in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district.

Water Resources Minister Lim Kean Hor said Sunday that Prime Minister Hun Sen had issued the order after reading a report from his ministry on the Dec 7 incident, in which more than 70,000 cubic meters of earth tumbled into the Mekong River following two months of dredging by Cambodian conglomerate Sokimex.

The suspension will last until officials have inspected all dredging operations to make sure they are safe, Lim Kean Hor said.

“Any licenses found to have been sold or whose operations have violated technical permission, as well as licenses that have not been used, will be revoked,” he said.

Minister for Industry, Mines and Energy Suy Sem said that proper permission had not been obtained for the dredging in Meanchey district. He added, however, that the bank collapse would probably have happened anyway because of the currents diverted by Koh Pich island toward that riverbank.

“Banks collapse every year around that area,” he said, adding that dredging, if done correctly, need not harm the environment.

But Sokimex President Sok Kong insisted Sunday that his company had gotten a license and had followed all the relevant technical guidelines.

He said that his company had only been dredging for a short time and at a location more than 800 meters from the collapsed bank.

“We dredged from a depth of eight meters, while the area where the bank collapsed is too deep for our machinery,” Sok Kong said.

Suy Sem said his ministry had referred a request to dredge from Sokimex to the Ministry for Water Resources, adding that while his ministry could issue licenses, they could not inspect the technical aspects on their own.


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