Viral Video Claiming to Show Illegal Sand Exports Spurs Inquiry

A spokesman for the Mines and Energy Ministry said an investigation is underway after an NGO posted video footage online that it claims show vessels off the coast of Sihanoukville loading up on Cambodian sand to send overseas in apparent violation of a government ban on sand exports.

The Deryoung Sunflower, a bulk vessel bound for Taiwan, was filmed by the environmental NGO Mother Nature as it loaded sand between Sihanoukville and Koh Rong island on Saturday, exiled NGO director Alex Gonzalez-Davidson said on Tuesday.

An image appears to show a vessel loading sand from a smaller barge off the coast of Sihanoukville on Saturday. (Mother Nature)

The video, edited with English subtitles and uploaded to the NGO’s Facebook page on Monday, had more than 447,000 views and had been shared nearly 30,000 times as of Tuesday night.

Images of Ocean Beauty, another vessel the NGO said was loaded with locally dredged sand bound for China, were shared with reporters by email.

According to MarineTraffic.com, which tracks ships via satellite, Ocean Beauty was south of Koh Rong Samloem island exiting Cambodian waters when its position was last received at 3 p.m. on Tuesday. Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson also forwarded screenshots showing the Deryoung Sunflower anchored off the coast of Sihanoukville on Saturday.

Amid mounting pressure over sand export records showing discrepancies of tens of millions of cubic meters, as well as claims of environmental destruction, the Mines and Energy Ministry stopped issuing new dredging and exporting licenses in November.

But Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson said locals told his organization that the exports continued.

“Local fisher folk had been telling us for a while that sand exports had never stopped in that part of Cambodia,” he said. “We sent a team to investigate and we exposed it.”

The ministry said it was disappointed Mother Nature went public before sharing its information.

“We regret that Mother Nature did not cooperate with the Ministry…by providing information in a timely manner that could help finding whether it was an illegal activity or not,” spokesman Dith Tina said in an email.

“If you have seen a crime happen, should you make a video reportage of the crime at the crime scene…or should you alert the police right away?”

Nevertheless, the ministry was now investigating, he said.

“If we find out any infringement of the law, the ministry will press charges accordingly,” he said.

Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson said he would not put much faith in the government’s efforts.

“I expect nothing but lies and deceit, combined with contradictions, from the government,” he said. “They have already started going into panic mode today.”

Chhour Cheam, a fisherman from Sre Ambel district in Koh Kong province, where most of the sand in the country is dredged, said dredging and exports in the Thmar Rieng estuary had continued without interruption.

“They work around the clock with about four or five boats transporting sand to the big ships,” Mr. Cheam said.

He said 10 dolphins died last year due to bad water discharged from four pumping machines.

“We do not know what to do,” he said. “We have just kept quiet.”

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