Fishermen Claim Victory Against Sand Dredgers

An environmental activist and a fisherman said Sunday that about 70 residents of Koh Kong province had worked together over the past few days to chase away sand-dredging barges they accused of operating illegally around Koh Kapi island and damaging vital fishing grounds.

Sun Mala, co-founder of environmental rights group Mother Nature, said local fishing families had been protesting against the dredging since Thursday. On Friday, they tied their motorboats to 12 barges and about eight sand transport boats that were at work near the island until the crews agreed to drive away. The villagers continued tying their boats to offending vessels until Sunday morning, when the dredgers all left the area, Mr. Mala said.

Residents of Koh Kong province's Koh Kong district prepare to mount a waterborne operation to chase away a sand-dredging barge on Saturday afternoon. (Mother Nature)
Residents of Koh Kong province’s Koh Kong district prepare to mount a waterborne operation to chase away a sand-dredging barge on Saturday afternoon. (Mother Nature)

Mr. Mala said the ships all belonged to the International Rainbow company and that one of the crewmen showed him a copy of its dredging license on a mobile phone. According to the electronic copy, he said, the license had expired in February and in any case was not valid for Koh Kong district’s Koh Kapi commune.

Hum Saroeun, one of the fishermen who helped chase off the barges, said that International Rainbow was just one among many dredging companies that had been working around Koh Kapi for the past 10 years.

“The big ships pump out sand and cause the mangrove trees to fall down,” Mr. Saroeun said, killing off the vital fish and crab habitat the community depends on.

“I am getting old, and I want my children to have a place to make money,” he said. “We use nets to catch crabs, and we have relied on the coast for the past 30 years to feed ourselves.”

Commune chief Khun Vannar said he was aware that the villagers had protested and driven away the dredging barges. He said a copy of the company’s license he had seen indicated that International Rainbow could dredge sand until the end of 2015, but that he could not recall the area in which it was allowed to do so.

“I don’t know the details about where the company can pump sand; I just know the company has permission,” he said.

Meng Saktheara, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Mines and Energy, said the provincial mines and energy department informed him Sunday that International Rainbow’s barges were not dredging around the island.

“The site of the sand dredging is far away from this area [Koh Kapi island]. The barges the people saw were only being used to transport the sand,” he said. “If villagers have evidence to prove the company was pumping sand in their area, they can file a complaint.”

International Rainbow could not be reached for comment.

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