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Illegal sand mining in Vietnam's Mekong Delta raises alarm

Illegal sand mining in Vietnam's Mekong Delta raises alarm

Saturday, October 29, 2022, 10:00 GMT+7
Illegal sand mining in Vietnam's Mekong Delta raises alarm
In an area of the Tien River that runs through Cai Be District, Tien Giang Province, boats illegally suck sand from the riverbed on the evening of September 30. Photo: Tien Trinh / Tuoi Tre

Tien Giang Province in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta region has upheld a nine-year suspension of sand mining activities in the locality in order to prevent riverbank erosion and protect the local environment.

Still, despite the suspension, illegal exploitation is carried out across the province, with few, if any, measures taken to deter illegal mining.

After dark, boats, and barges appear on the Tien River to suck sand from the riverbed. Photo: Mau Truong / Tuoi Tre
After dark, boats, and barges appear on the Tien River to suck sand from the riverbed. Photo: Mau Truong / Tuoi Tre

Th., a Tien Giang local, lives along the province’s Cua Dai River, where he has spent years watching barges and boats travel the waterway, hauling illegally mined sand.

According to Th., sand miners used to only visit the area sporadically. This year, however, river traffic seems to be picking up, with about ten large barges each carrying thousands of tons of sand cruising down the river each night.

Every night, dozens of small wooden boats pull up alongside these barges to pump sand into their iron-hulls.

Once full, the boats retreat down small channels.

Despite both locals and journalists catching the practice on video, authorities seem to have made little headway in solving the problem.

Th. said that he had reported the problem to local authorities at all levels of the municipality, district, and province, but little progress seems to have been made.

"After receiving my report, [authorities] sent staff to investigate the situation. They even slept at my house to observe the river and promised to solve the problem. Still, the issue persists," said Th.

Tuoi Tre (Youth) reporters recently visited Th. and several other Tien Giang locals. 

Over a period of several days at the end of September and beginning of October, these locals took the reporters out on the river to record as dozens of small wooden boats pumped massive amounts of sand onto large iron-hulled barges. 

Failure to act

Le Tran Ngoc Lam, chairman of the Phu Thanh Commune People's Committee, told Tuoi Tre that the local government is well-aware of the issue and has taken steps to act against illegal exploitation in the area.  

"We have dealt with the problem through proper procedures, including reviewing the situation and asking locals not to engage in illegal sand mining," said Lam, adding that the local government’s lack of personnel and vehicles make it difficult to gather enough evidence to prosecute illegal miners.

Complicating the issue, as the large barges merely carry the sand and do not dredge it themselves, their legality falls into a grey area.

When authorities do approach barges to check their records, the owners typically produce invoices declaring that the sand came from other localities, such as Dong Thap and An Giang Provinces.

Though regulators could, in theory, crack down on the small wooden boats that siphon sand onto the larger barges, tracking these boats down is far beyond the capacity of the local government.

"Currently, wooden barges quickly suck up the sand and then speed off. Because they move so fast, it is impossible for us to catch them red-handed," explained Lam.

According to Bui Thai Son, chairman of the Tan Phu Dong District People's Committee, the local government understand the concerns of its residents, but the fact that the waterway runs through several provinces makes the issue extremely complicated.

Currently, there are no sand mines in Tien Giang, but the provincial government has once again begun issuing sand mining licenses after a nine-year hiatus due to the current sand shortage.

Nguyen Van Du, the deputy chief inspector of the Tien Giang Provincial Department of Natural Resources and Environment, told Tuoi Tre that the department has submitted a plan to the provincial People’s Committee to explore and evaluate the Tien River sand reserves.

Once the evaluation process is complete, the department expects to propose a plan to the provincial People's Committee to hold a tender for sand exploitation.

In an area of the Tien River that runs through Cai Be District, Tien Giang Province, boats illegally suck sand from the riverbed on the evening of September 30. Photo: Tien Trinh / Tuoi Tre
In an area of the Tien River that runs through Cai Be District, Tien Giang Province, boats illegally suck sand from the riverbed on the evening of September 30, 2022. Photo: Tien Trinh / Tuoi Tre

Economic police in An Giang Province recently announced that they have cooperated with relevant law enforcement units to arrest 54-year-old Nguyen Huu Phuoc from Tan Thanh Commune, Thanh Binh District, Dong Thap Province, for illegally buying and selling fake invoices.

The suspect was arrested in Ho Chi Minh City and then transported to Dong Thap where he was tried.

According to a police investigation of the incident, from October 2018 to May 2020, Phuoc established Tien So Thuong one member limited company in Thuong Thoi Tien Commune, Hong Ngu District, Dong Thap Province.

Phuoc managed five companies, all of which were registered to other individuals.

Phuoc issued 997 fake invoices showing nearly two million cubic meters of sand had been sold to Thanh Van Tan Chau Company, operated by Le Thanh Van, 41, who lives in Tan Chau commune, An Giang province.

In reality, no sand had been traded.

The amount shown on the invoices totaled nearly VND102 billion (US$4.1 million).

Phuoc and Van earned VND3 billion ($121,334) and VND1.9 billion ($76,845), respectively, from selling these fake invoices.

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Kim Thoa - Mau Truong / Tuoi Tre News

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