Sand dredging activity in Koh Kong province has dropped in recent months due to a reduction in foreign demand for sand, a provincial official said yesterday. At the same time, officials denied that dredging in the province had breached the government’s 2009 blanket ban on sand exports, while giving different reasons for why the dredging activity was still being allowed.
Environmental campaigners Global Witness yesterday remained skeptical however, of the government’s claims that dredging operations in Koh Kong had been scaled down.
Pich Siyun, director of the Koh Kong provincial department of industry, mines and energy, said two out of the four companies licensed to dredge in the province had halted operations in recent months because of a lack of foreign orders from Singapore and Vietnam.
“Some companies said there is no market demand… Maybe they are preparing new contracts,” Mr Siyun said. He added that businessman and CPP senator Ly Yong Phat owned one of the companies that had stopped operations.
In May, Global Witness released a lengthy report detailing the government’s alleged failure to enforce a 2009 ban on sand exports, which it said were driven by demand from Singapore.
The group also accused the government of granting dredging licenses to CPP-affiliated businesses–which it said had extracted vast quantities of sand without regard for social and environmental safeguards.
Mr Siyun said, however, that last year’s moratorium still allowed dredging operations to continue in the province’s estuaries, but not at sea.
Koh Kong provincial governor Bun Loeut confirmed sand-dredging companies had halted much of their operations. He too maintained that under the government ban, dredging of sand for export was still allowed in estuaries.
Bun Hean, secretary of state at the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology, gave another explanation for the government’s support for continued dredging in Koh Kong.
“[There is] no total ban. The government regulation means that at renewable sites there can be dredging,” he said, adding licensed companies could dredge at these sites.
Global Witness campaigner George Boden said yesterday the group was unconvinced of the government’s claims that sand dredging in the province had dropped.
“We have no reason to believe that the volume of sand being dredged and exported has changed dramatically in recent months,” he wrote in an email. He also doubted the government’s claims that dredging was limited to areas that are “renewable.”
“We have not seen any evidence of environmental or social impact assessments and therefore don’t understand how the government can know which areas are specifically vulnerable to dredging, or in which areas sand is naturally replenished,” Mr Boden wrote.
“We still have big concerns about the environmental and socio-economic consequences of these activities.”
Prum Pheang, a monitor for local rights group Licadho in Koh Kong, said fishermen in the province reported that sand dredging in their fishing waters had stopped, after dredging operations in previous years had devastated local fish stocks.
“The fishermen say that now they get a better fish catch,” Mr Pheang said.