Sand-Dredging Boats Active One Day After Ban Announced

Sand-dredging boats were active along the Mekong River in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district on Tuesday, despite the city’s municipal governor, Pa Socheatvong, having ordered a complete suspension of dredging in the city the day before.

Phnom Penh City Hall on Monday put in place the temporary ban on all dredging in response to what it said was an overabundance of unlicensed firms dredging river sand in the capital.

An excavator moves river sand as it flows out of a pipe connected to dredging boats in the Mekong River,  in Phnom Penh's Meanchey district on Tuesday. (Alex Willemyns/The Cambodia Daily)
An excavator moves river sand as it flows out of a pipe connected to dredging boats in the Mekong River, in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district on Tuesday. (Alex Willemyns/The Cambodia Daily)

“We suspended dredging in order to look into each firm, and we will report to the government which companies have the legal rights to dredge and which do not,” City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said Tuesday.

But on a dredging boat in Meanchey district’s Niroth commune Tuesday, Touch Sovann, 30, said that he was busy dredging sand as usual for a firm called Sok Hong.

“For small grains of sand, we bring in six boats of river sand per day. For large grains, we bring in five boats,” he explained, adding that nobody had notified him of the ban.

A kilometer away along Na­tional Highway 1, excavators and trucks awaited sand being pumped 500 meters through pipes from the Mekong for a firm workers identified as Sok Ly.

Speaking over the roar of pumping machines, Sreyneang, whose husband was working on one of the company’s dredging boats docked on the river Tuesday, said dredging operations on the river were going ahead as usual.

“At least six boats per day dock here,” she said, adding that her husband made about 50,000 riel or about $12.50 per day depending on how many boatloads of sand the firm brought in.

Ms. Sreyneang said that no one had come from Sok Ly or from the government to tell her husband to stop dredging.

“If any authorities come to tell us, we will stop,” she said.

Ouch Chan Roeun, 20, a truck driver waiting farther down the river Tuesday, said he was employed by a firm called G.S. and was working as usual to haul river sand to the city center.

“It’s going to the Koh Pich extension, also for the Riviera,” he said, referring to a 500-meter expansion of the island into the confluence of the Mekong and Bassac rivers and a $100 million condominium and shopping de­velopment on the island’s west being undertaken by the Overseas Cambodia Investment Corp.

“We have six trucks, and each makes six trips a day,” he said.

Chib Rin, the manager of G.S.’ dredge site, denied that the sand being hauled out of the river was headed for Koh Pich but said he was aware of the dredging suspension by City Hall on Monday.

“I know about this also, but unless the authorities come to tell us to stop, we won’t stop,” he said.

“We have a license to dredge here and it’s legal. They cannot close our business because we have a license.”

Representatives at the Sok Ly and Sok Hong companies could not be reached.

Phoeuk Mali, 30, who runs the Mlob Svay restaurant, which is next to a house that had collapsed into the river, said that she had not heard of the ban but had seen dredging boats operating near her restaurant Tuesday.

“This house collapsed four or five years ago,” she said.

“Now we are wary the same will happen to us but we cannot do anything. Our shop used to be 40 meters away from the water and now it’s right next to the river.”

Ms. Mali said that none of the dredging companies nearby had come to speak to her about her slowly disappearing land, but said she had heard that authorities were dredging the river in order to fix problems with the water flow.

“I heard by word of mouth that they are dredging in order to make the river run better,” she said.

City Hall’s Mr. Dimanche said Tuesday that he was not aware of continued dredging in Phnom Penh but that serious action would be taken against firms that dredged during the ban.

“We have not received any reports about the dredging along the river, but we have a special team and we sent them to the river to do an investigation,” he said.

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