Illegal sand mining crackdown cuts construction material supply

By An Binh, Ngoc Tai   September 3, 2023 | 05:00 am PT
An investigation into the illegal mining of Mekong Delta sand has resulted in scarcity that has pushed up its price and hindered major construction projects.

A day in late August, a series of dredging rigs were left idle along a section of the Hau River, one of the two main branches of the Mekong, in An Giang Province.

The owner of a business selling construction materials in the province said sand trading activities at mines these days "are nearly frozen as prices are way too high."


Dredging rigs and barges to serve sand mining and transportation on the Hau River in 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Tai

He said sand sold at a mine currently costs VND120,000-130,000 (US$5-5.38) per cubic meter depending on the type. When arriving at construction sites, prices rise to VND320,000-330,000 per cubic meter due to transportation costs, which means each cubic meter of construction sand is now VND60,000-70,000 higher than it was two weeks ago.

In Vinh Long Province, a construction company has suspended use of its barge for several days in a row now due to a shortage of sand.

A representative from the country said that two weeks ago the company was paying VND200,000 per cubic meter for sand used to make foundations. Now, the product costs as much as VND270,000 per cubic meters.

Market insiders said the supply of sand in the region has been limited for the past two weeks ever since the Ministry of Public Security busted a ring of illegal sand mining in An Giang Province.

A ministry investigation revealed that Trung Hau 68 Company, based in An Giang’s Cho Moi District, was licensed to mine 1.5 million cubic meters of sand for the construction of four sections of the North-South Expressway.

However, by the time police looked into the case earlier this month, the company had already mined more than 4.7 million cubic meters of sand, valued at VND253 billion on the market.

On Aug. 25, police announced an investigation into the An Giang People’s Committee deputy chairman Tran Anh Thu for allegedly taking bribes of VND1.2 billion (US$50,000) to allow Trung Hau 68 to mine sand beyond the licensed levels.

The company's CEO also told police that he had shared part of the money earned from selling the extra sand with several officials, including the director of An Giang's Department of Natural Resources and Environment.

With the investigation going on, sand exploitation in An Giang has been suspended, and several sand mine owners have taken advantage of the situation to hold back the supply to push up the market price.

This has affected numerous construction projects, especially those to build expressways through the delta.

According to the Can Tho City Official Development Assistance Project Management Board, the unit currently has nearly 20 projects in need of construction sand.

Of them, the 37-km-long section of Chau Doc - Can Tho - Soc Trang Expressway through Can Tho requires about 5 million cubic meters of sand to fill up the foundation.

The board said early this year that the government had tasked An Giang with arranging sand for the expressway. But still now, the contractor has yet to receive any of the material.

A section of Can Tho - Ca Mau Expressway in Kien Giang Province awaits for sand to fill up the foundation. Photo by VnExpress/An Binh

A section of Can Tho - Ca Mau Expressway in Kien Giang Province awaits for sand to fill up the foundation. Photo by VnExpress/An Binh

Meanwhile, the My Thuan Project Management Board has sent a document to the Ministry of Transport reporting on the progress of the Can Tho - Ca Mau Expressway project.

After eight months, one of the expressway's two sections is just 8.72% complete, while the other section is only 7.5% complete.

The board said the project had been delayed due to a lack of sand to make the expressway's foundation.

It said that the demand for sand is "huge," but implementation of procedures for opening new sand mines is very slow.

In Dong Thap Province, there are currently 12 units licensed to exploit sand. But so far, they can only cover 40% of demand at construction sites in the province. The locality still needs 10 million cubic meters of construction sand.

However, as overexploitation of sand resources leads to riverbank erosion, localities in the Mekong Delta have also been working on finding sustainable alternative materials.

The Ministry of Transport has since last year been considering a plan to use sea sand to gradually replace river sand in construction projects.

According to the ministry, there are three coastal locations in the deal where sea sand could be mined and processed to serve construction projects, including 13.9 billion cubic meters at two locations in Soc Trang Province, and 2.1 million cubic meters at a mine in Tra Vinh Province.

At the beginning of the year, the ministry piloted a project to process sea sand samples in Tra Vinh to serve expressway construction. When it was concluded, the sand project had met all needed requirements.

Ha Huy Anh, Country Manager of WWF Vietnam's Sustainable Sand Management Project, said while waiting for the new source of materials, contractors need to apply advanced construction technology to save sand resources.

He suggested that they build viaducts along expressways, which can save the amount of sand needed for making the foundation.

go to top