Illegal exploitation of sand in the Thi Vai River continues to despoil areas of Tan Thanh District in the southern coastal province of Ba Ria -Vung Tau, causing losses to aquaculture farmers and delays in building a new industrial zone.

Industrial zones were to be built around the main port in the area, but for the last three years, illegal sand exploiters have caused serious problems.

The domestic port area is located in the district's Phuoc Hoa commune, two kilometres away from the new Cai Mep port.

Every night, at least eight boats exploit sand on the Thi Vai River in front of the new Cai Mep port, and one 1,000-tonne barge receives the sand from the boats for a price of VND40,000 per cubic metre. On average, each boat needs 20 – 30 minutes to collect 25 – 30 cubic metres of sand.

In daylight during the week, all the boats stop working, but on the weekend, they exploit sand day and night.

One local resident said that illegal sand exploiters in the past only took sand from the middle of the river, but now they have moved closer to the bank.

When 100,000 cubic metres of sand were taken away, a dyke that was built to protect aquaculture ponds collapsed, and hundreds of hectares were affected.

In mid-April, a local farmer, who declined to be named, planned to harvest his ponds but the dyke suddenly broke and he lost all of his seafood. The farmer had to spend tens of million of dong to rebuild the dyke.

Another farmer, who also did not want to be named, had to leave his wife, son and daughter at home every night to protect his aquaculture area.

"I have to carefully listen and watch when the sand exploiting boat comes. I have begged them to stay away from my aquaculture farm," he said.

In addition, oil from the boats has also endangered marine life.

"In the past, when we complained, they gave us 1 – 2 million VND for compensation. But now they don't care. None of us dare do anything because they are protected by underworld members," a local resident said.

Tran Van Nhieu, chairman of the Phuoc Hoa commune's People's Committee, said that illegal sand exploiters had also overtaken land and caused environmental pollution.

"With limited human resources and equipment at the communal level, we can't catch them red-handed. We have told the district authorities many times, but they haven't come up with a solution," Nhieu was quoted as saying in the Nguoi Lao Dong (Labourer) newspaper.

Although the sand exploitation has caused construction delays, the investor has not expressed concern.-VNA