Sand For Sale: Environment Ravages

Sand For Sale, Environment Ravaged, Cambodia

By © Denis D. Gray, AP Enterprise

Round a bend in Cambodia’s Tatai River and the virtual silence of a tropical idyll turns suddenly into an industrial nightmare.

Lush jungle hills give way to a flotilla of dredgers operating 24 hours a day, scooping up sand and piling it onto ocean-bound barges. The churned-up waters and fuel discharges, villagers say, have decimated the fish so vital to their livelihoods. Riverbanks are beginning to collapse, and the din and pollution are killing a promising ecotourism industry.

What is bad news for the poor, remote Tatai community is great tidings for Singapore, the wealthy city-state that is expanding its territory by reclaiming land from the sea. Sand from nearby countries is the prime landfill and also essential building material for Singapore’s spectacular skyline.

As more countries ban its export to curb environmental damage entire Indonesian islands have been all but wiped off the map suppliers to Singaporescour the region for what still can be obtained, legally or not. Cambodia, a poor country where corruption is rife and laws are often flouted, is now the No. 1 source.

Singapore is by no means the only nation taking part in what is a global harvest of sand from beaches, rivers and seabeds. Officials and environmentalists from China to Morocco have voiced concern and urged curbs. As construction booms in emerging economies and more sources dry up, however, exploitation of the remaining ones is likely to intensify.

Sand mining began anew in May on southwestern Tatai River, which empties into the ocean almost directly north of Singapore, across 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) of open water.

Despite denials by the main owner of sand mining rights in Koh Kong province, two Cambodian officials told The Associated Press that the sand is destined for the island nation.

Singapore will not say where its sand comes from; the Construction and Building Authority said it is not public information. The National Development Ministry said the state’s infrastructure development company buys it from “a diverse range of approved sources.”

The mining visible on the Tatai River clearly violates some of Cambodia’s own legal restrictions, not to mention a recent government order to suspend it temporarily.

Vessels of a Vietnamese company were tracked by boat from about 10 kilometers (6 miles) upriver to the Gulf of Thailand, where nearly a dozen seagoing barges, tugs hovering around them, took on the sand.

The AZ Kunming Singapore, a 5,793-ton (5,255-metric ton) barge pulled by the AZ Orchid, was seen arriving empty from the open ocean, its tug flying a Singaporean flag. Both are registered with the Singapore government, which would not comment on the barge’s cargo or destination.

Ships from several countries, including China, were spotted in sand-mining operations in Koh Kong province, where residents joked about going toSingapore and planting a Cambodian flag there.

The vessels included one from Winton Enterprises, a Hong Kong-registered group that was subcontracted to export sand to Singapore, according to Global Witness, a London-based environmental group that published a detailed account of the trade last year.

The report said that miners had penetrated protected mangrove, estuary and sea grass areas, breeding grounds for marine life along a coastline and hinterland harboring some of the country’s last wilderness areas.

Cambodia’s cabinet spokesman, Siphan Phay, who was investigating the issue in Koh Kong, appeared angry that the temporary halt order was being ignored. He described the activity as illegal mining destined for Singapore, a surprising statement given that government ministers awarded the concession.

A police officer in the economic crime division, who demanded anonymity given the issue’s sensitivity, also said the sand is going to Singapore.

Ly Yong Phat, who holds the major concession in Koh Kong, has at times openly acknowledged the Singapore connection. But in a recent AP interview, amid tightening restrictions and mounting criticism, he said his company had not shipped sand to Singapore for more than a year because “our sand did not meet their standards.”

The dredging, he added, was for local sale and to deepen river channels.

However, a Malaysian company, Benalec Holdings, said it was ready to tap up to 530,000 tons for a reclamation project in Singapore from several sources in Cambodia, including Ly Yong Phat’s LYP Group.

Known as the “King of Koh Kong,” Ly Yong Phat is one of Cambodia’s biggest tycoons and a senator with close ties to Prime Minister Hun Sen. His holdings include hotels, a casino and agricultural plantations.

Land reclamation has enlarged Singapore by more than a fifth, and up to 100 square kilometers (nearly 40 square miles) more are slated for reclamation by 2030. What was once seabed is now Changi, among the world’s finest airports, and more recently the Marina Bay complex, which includes a 2,560-room hotel and casino developed by Las Vegas Sands Corp.

Mountains of sand are needed for such fills. U.N. statistics show Singapore imported 14.6 million tons last year, ranking it among the world’s top customers. Global Witness estimated that nearly 800,000 tons a year, worth some $248 million, were streaming to Singapore from Koh Kong alone.

The U.N. figures show that Cambodia supplied 25 percent of Singapore’s imports in 2010, followed by Vietnam, Malaysia, Myanmar and the Philippines. With its secrecy and lax enforcement of environmental regulations, Myanmar could emerge as a major supplier.

The damage caused by sand extraction has spurred clampdowns on exports.

Malaysia imposed a ban in 1997, though the media there frequently report on massive smuggling into neighboring Singapore. Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad complains that sand pirates are “digging Malaysia and giving her to other people.”

An Indonesian ban came in 2007, following years of strained relations with Singapore over the sand on islands lying between the two countries. When miners finished with Nipah Island, reportedly all that was left was three or four palm trees protruding above the waterline. Environmental groups say smuggling is believed to be continuing.

Vietnam banned exports late last year.

Cambodia outlawed the export of sand from rivers in 2009 but allows it from some seabeds. Recently, some government officials said that rivers where seawater flowed into fresh water, replenishing sand naturally, were exempt.

Global Witness spokesman Oliver Courtney said the trade in Cambodia revealed a “mismatch between Singapore’s reliance on questionably sourcedsand and its position as a leader for sustainable development.” The city-state prides itself on environmentally sound urban planning.

The dredging of the Tatai River began on May 17 “with a fury,” creating a veritable traffic jam on the water, said Janet Newman, owner of the riverside Rainbow Lodge.

“Before you could see crab pots bobbing in the river everywhere and fishermen going out. Now there is nothing and nobody,” the British woman said.

Chea Manith of the Nature Tourism Community of Tatai said 270 families along the river have seen an estimated 85 percent drop in catch of fish, crab and lobsters and were being forced to eke out a living from small garden plots. Tourists have all but vanished.

Armed with a petition, village leaders, tourism operators and a wildlife group met with Ly Yong Phat in early July. He appeared sympathetic, Newman said. He substantially reduced the dredging and has promised to stop altogether in October.

A subsequent letter from the Minister of Water Resources and Meteorology ordered the LYP group to halt operations temporarily on the Tatai, citing a breach of regulations. The letter was obtained by Cambodia’s Phnom Penh Post newspaper, which made it available to the AP.

Hun Sen himself expressed concern over the mining in the river.

“We hoped that the prime minister’s recent promise to review the impacts of the sand trade would lead to proper regulation of dredging operations,” said Courtney of Global Witness. “Unfortunately, the pledge does not appear to have been followed up with meaningful action.”

The mining has continued on the Tatai, and violations, such as dredging closer than 150 meters (165 yards) from riverbanks, were clearly evident.

The Post also obtained a Ministry of Industry, Mining and Energy letter extending LYP Group’s concession in Koh Kong until Sept. 2012.

“We are just little people. We cannot do anything,” Chea Manith said.

Newman sounded a more optimistic note. “It’s my hope that the LYP Group will become sympathetic through this experience of having seen the reaction from people passionate about protecting their environment,” she said. “It would be sad if they just went somewhere else to dump the same on others.”

Associated Press writers Sean Yoong in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Alex Kennedy in Singapore; Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines; Aye Aye Win in Yangon, Myanmar; and Sopheng Cheang in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 By The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

Photos Gallery, Source: ©© Robert Tyabji Hoorob


A Stop Order To Excessive Dredging, Koh Kong, Cambodia

Excerpts; Cambodia Today

Ruling party senator Ly Yong Phat, the “king Of Koh Kong” has defied a stop order endorsed by the Cambodian Prime Minster to halt his controversial sand dredging activities on the Tatai river in Koh Kong.

The tycoon’s company had been found to be dredging beyond authorised boundaries and using too much equipment…

Read Full Article

A Stop Order To Excessive Dredging, Koh Kong, Cambodia

Sand Dredging Of Unprecedented Scale, Cambodia

Singapore’s Sand Import Threatens Cambodian Ecosystems

The Damages Caused By Singapore’s Insatiable Thirst For Land

Tags: ,

Sand Mining

You can make a difference and help save our beaches

Learn simple things that you can do to help protect beaches starting with simply educating others about the beach thereby helping us celebrate the beauty of the world’s beaches.


Join our campaign!

Sign the petition to end global sand mining.


  • Sand Mining Resources

  • More / Sand Mining

    Why This Sand From Texas Is Suddenly Worth $80 a Ton

    July 14th, 2018

    A major second wave of US fracking is about to be unleashed upon the world.

    Read More

    Bridge Collapse In Mangaluru: Illegal Sand Mining Takes A Very Heavy Toll; India

    July 7th, 2018

    A bridge built in 1980 has collapsed not due to rain and floods, but due to illegal sand mining. The life of the bridge as prescribed by engineers back in 1980 was 100 years. But thanks to the sand mafia, its life has been cut by 62 years.

    Read More

    Illegal sand mining re-emerges in Hanoi, Vietnam

    July 6th, 2018

    Despite last year crack down on sand dredging, illegal sand mining activities have re-started in Phúc Thọ District of Hanoi, causing much public concern.

    Read More

    Riddle of the sands: the truth behind stolen beaches and dredged islands

    July 1st, 2018

    The insatiable demand of the global building boom has unleashed an illegal market in sand. Gangs are now stealing pristine beaches to order and paradise islands are being dredged and sold to the construction industry.

    Read More

    A wider, deeper beach awaits Ocean City vacationers, but is it safe?

    June 2nd, 2018

    Ocean City vacationers may notice deeper, wider beaches, the result of a $282 million sand-dredging project aimed at protecting the resort town from storm damage. But the work also raises concerns about surf injuries and swimmer safety.

    Read More

    Jobless Cape Coast youth venture into illegal beach sand winning; Ghana

    May 26th, 2018

    The youth at Bakaano, a suburb of Cape Coast, have taken to illegal mining due to the unavailability of jobs.

    Read More

    Cities from the sea: the true cost of reclaimed land

    May 2nd, 2018

    Asia is growing. Literally. From Malaysia to Dubai, luxury developments are rising on artificial islands and coastlines. Everybody wins – except the local sea life and the fishermen who depend on it

    Read More

    It’s not just Xolobeni: What the Australian mining company did in the Western Cape; South Africa

    April 29th, 2018

    The Australian mining company seeking the right to mine in Xolobeni in the Eastern Cape, has been lashed for its treatment of a community in the Western Cape where it has been accused of breaching its legal obligations.

    Read More

    Archive / Sand Mining