A huge amount of sand from a dredging project off the southern Vietnamese island of Phu Quoc is being sold to Singapore, while local constructions are forced to use sand bought from the mainland, a paradox angering residents of the popular tourist destination.
Phu Quoc is a district administered by the southern province of Kien Giang, and where the Naval Zone 5, a Vietnamese Navy command unit, has its headquarters and naval port.
The Naval Zone 5 has two private firms carry out the sand dredging project to open the access channel to the port, with the dredged sand exported to Singapore.
Many Phu Quoc islanders have complained that the sand should be used in local construction projects rather than being exported, while others expressed concern that the continuous dredging would eventually cause land subsidence, affecting the safety of islanders.
Dredging throughout the night
The sale of sand to Singapore emerged in late 2015 but quickly ceased following protests from local residents.
However, in early November, barges began returning to the waters off Phu Quoc Island for dredging, before carrying the sand to ships waiting to transport the material to Singapore.
At first light on November 30, Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reporters arrived at the naval port to observe the sale of sand, with two major ships docked around 1km from the port, waiting for the dredged sand to be loaded.
At the time, the ship Turicum was fully loaded with sand and was pending procedures to sail back to Singapore.
Anchored a few hundred meters away from Turicum was the Yuan Shun Hai, operated by Cosco Shipping, which was loading sand from several barges.
Ten barges were docked not far away from the two vessels, with four busily pumping sand from the seabed.
On December 1, Tuoi Tre visited the Phu Quoc representative office of the Kien Giang Seaport Authority, while a Turicum representative was completing paperwork for the ship to leave.
It would be the third Phu Quoc-Singapore trip over the last 30 days for Turicum, and the fourth for Yuan Shun Hai. Both vessels are able to carry some 60,000 metric tons of sand per trip.
Phu Quoc islanders have strongly disapproved of the sale of sand dredged off the island to foreign companies.
At a meeting with Kien Giang lawmakers on November 11, Nguyen Van Nam, a resident of the island’s An Thoi Town, questioned why Vietnam continues to export sand to Singapore while many other countries stopped doing so long ago.
Huynh Quang Hung, deputy chairman of Phu Quoc District, also opposed the decision of the Naval Zone 5 to export the locally dredged sand.
“The sand must have been used for construction projects on Phu Quoc, given the current demand for site leveling on the island,” Hung said at the same meeting.
Hung underlined that continuous sand dredging may cause land subsidence near the port, adding that the district’s administration will continue to petition higher authorities to have the dredging stopped.
“Many infrastructure and tourism projects on Phu Quoc are in need of a huge amount of sand for site leveling, but have to buy from the mainland at inflated prices because the on-island supply falls short,” he said.
As Tuoi Tre returned to the scene on Sunday, a new vessel, Hong Kong’s Jin Gang, was seen waiting to receive sand off Phu Quoc Island.
‘In line with procedures’
Phung Quoc Binh, deputy director of the Kien Giang environment department, confirmed that sand is being dredged and sold to Singapore off Phu Quoc Island, but the activity is in line with all procedures, paperwork and regulations.
On November 30, a Naval Zone 5 high-ranking official also asserted to Tuoi Tre that the dredging is in line with procedure and under proper supervision by the environment department.
The naval official refused to comment further, asking Tuoi Tre to work with the environment department.
On December 1, Vo Thi Van, another deputy director of the Kien Giang environment department, gave Tuoi Tre a departmental inspection report on the sand dredging project in waters near the Naval Zone 5 port.
According to the document, the project is backed by the Ministry of Defense, with all necessary papers completed and approved.
The developer, the Naval Zone 5, has also been authorized to contract two private firms, Hai Viet Co. and Duc Long Co., to carry out the dredging to save investment cost.
Van added that the amount of sand to be dredged had also been approved by the Ministry of Construction.
Under the construction ministry’s license, the two companies are allowed to exploit seven million cubic meters of sand, with one million cubic meters eligible for export.
The inspection report was submitted to the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources on July 19.
At that time, the companies had dredged 296,868 cubic meters of sand and exported more than 100,000 cubic meters.
The firms had paid more than VD1.11 billion (US$49,554) in export taxes, but were yet to pay the natural resources and dredging taxes.
Van told Tuoi Tre on December 1 that her department would re-inspect the dredging activity and report to both Kien Giang’s and Phu Quoc’s administrations as soon as possible.
“The report will also be made public to all islanders, allowing them to directly oversee the dredging project,” she pressed.