Residents rush to sell sand barges owing to low demand in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta

Residents in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta are trying to sell their sand barges in a bid to minimize losses following tighter sand dredging policies

An owner sits by his sand barge in the Mekong Delta city of Can Tho.

People in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta are trying to sell their sand barges in a bid to minimize losses following tighter sand dredging policies.

Over 1,270 sand carriers have been put up for sale since the beginning of 2017, a year-on-year increase of 300 percent.

Dredging activities along rivers in the Mekong Delta region no longer bustle like they used to since authorities imposed strict sand mining policies.

Empty barges endlessly lining riverbanks is a common sight in localities such as Hau Giang Province, Can Tho City, and Vinh Long Province.

Resting on his vacant sand barge, Nguyen Van Tu, shared that he previously worked eight to 10 sand transport trips on a monthly basis.

The Soc Trang Province resident is now only chartered for three to four trips per month.

“I borrowed VND4 billion [US$175,872] to build the barge. With the current dip in demand for sand transport, I can barely pay the monthly interest, let alone the original loan,” the man complained.

More than half of the barge owners in the Hau (Back) River have been unable to pay their debts, forcing them to sell their barges, Tu said, adding that he may suffer the same fate if the situation does not begin to improve.

Along the Cho Gao Canal in Tien Giang Province, one of the main sand transport routes for barges in the Mekong Delta, the atmosphere is going through a dramatic change.

“Due to the tightening of regulations on sand exploitation, the amount of sand carried along the canal has dropped by 60 percent,” a local water police officer said.

According to Luu Quang Truong, owner of four sand barges and a building material business in Tien Giang, businessmen like himself previously bought resources from unofficial sand merchants.

“Finding a sand supplier was easy. All of my carriers were working to their full capacity,” Truong recounted.

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Porters load sand onto a carrier in Ben Tre Province. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Few buyers

A sand carrier previously valued at about VND3.5 billion ($153,888) is now selling for only VND900 million ($39,571), said Nguyen Hung Phat, director of a company in Soc Trang.

“The prevention of illegal sand exploitation has led to limited supply and the cessation of many construction projects, thus narrowing the need for sand transport,” Phat said, adding that no one would want to buy the barges even at the cheap prices.

According to Tran Do Liem, president of the Rach Gam Cooperative in Tien Giang, people have been shying away from buying the carriers due to the limited supply.

Tinh, the owner of a local building material shop, said he registered for bank loans in 2015 to build five barges he intended to lease.

It was a fruitful business until demand bottomed out.

“Barges with a 1,000 metric ton capacity cost me VND5 billion [$219,841]. Now I’m struggling to sell them at half that price,” Tinh elaborated.

Some owners have even taken to the Internet to sell their barges in the hope of attracting more buyers.   

According to barge owners, selling the barges is the only option as it is rather difficult to change the function of these sand carriers.

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