Submarines of Sand; or, a sand piracy update

Just because Steph is back in Australia doesn’t mean she’s given up on sand piracy. Oh, no. Quite the opposite.

So to recap, if you’re new to No Award: Last year I spent three months in Singapore doing climate change art, and in the process of meandering along in my usual stormwater and water conservation and food sovereignty pursuits I stumbled across sand piracy. I am astounded that I had never heard of it before; but since I’ve heard about it, I now encounter it constantly. I didn’t even need to set up a google alert!

Here’s what I wrote for you last year: An Island Full of Sand.

It hasn’t just been appearing on my radar. Two weeks ago multiple people sent me this link at the Guardian: Sand mining: the global environmental crisis you’ve probably never heard of. Thank you to EVERYONE. This is a fantastic introduction to sand mining if you’ve never heard of it, and also handy even if you have because it goes into much more depth than I have previously. It’s also got some good summaries of areas impacted by sand mining that I haven’t previously discussed.

As you know, India and Southeast Asia, particularly Cambodia and Indonesia, have been severely impacted by sand mining, and Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam have banned sand exports to various countries (SINGAPORE). Australian sand goes to the Middle East, where their deserts aren’t suitable for making concrete for construction.

This article looks a little bit at domestic Chinese sand mining – which is cool, because I hadn’t previously thought much about the domestic sand trade – and North America, which of course makes sense as a source of building sand.

In mid-January, just north of Monterey, California, several dozen cheering activists made an odd political statement: they dumped 200 pounds of bagged, store-bought sand onto a beach. They were returning the grains to where they had come from. The sand had originally been mined from that beach – a beach which, according to researchers, is gradually disappearing as a result.

Quokkas, I laughed.

Unbelievably, this giant Guardian article that’s at least 2000 words long has ZERO words on sand piracy. That’s right, ZERO. Though it has a lot of important words around environmental impacts etc, which obviously I care about. ZERO words about SAND PIRACY.

But it’s okay, because they followed it up later with this one that NOBODY sent me: He who controls the sand: the mining ‘mafias’ killing each other to build cities.

I am definitely not making enough Dune references in these posts, okay, noted. Anyway, this Guardian post on Sand Mafias is also a good intro post, go read it now.

Sand piracy is massive. If you’re new to sand piracy, here’s a good summary of it in India, which has giant sand mafias. This article at WSJ is a bit old but good reading.

Anyway in our region, our big sand player is Singapore. As always, it’s Cambodia who is calling Singapore out on its sand piracy. As usual, Singapore is like ‘no, all of our sand is legal but also we’re not telling you anything, national security.’

Singapore recorded importing more than 73.6 million tons of sand from Cambodia between 2007 and last year, compared to less than 2.8 million tons Cambodia said it sent there.

Singapore is a massive destination for sand, smuggled and otherwise, due to its ongoing plans to be the biggest little red dot in the universe.

So now that Singapore has been basically banned by Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam, and Cambodia looks to have its back up, it has its sights set on Bangladesh.

A discussion with a Singaporean company to dredge rivers in exchange for the excavated sand is underway, Water Resources Minister Anisul Islam Mahmud has said.

He told the media at a programme in Dhaka Reporters’ Unity on Sunday that the government was trying to have some of the big rivers dredged experimentally by foreigners.

“They (foreigners) will take away the excavated sand, and as everything has a value, they will pay for it,” he said.

Dude don’t do it!

But has it been banned by Vietnam? A Vietnamese Paper, Tuoi Tre, did a three part expose on the sand going from Vietnam to Singapore.

Tracing Vietnamese ‘sand drain’ to Singapore:

In it they reveal that the sand is being sold dirt (hah) cheap to Singapore, that they couldn’t get access to the sites in Singapore or Vietnam, and the role of tax dodging incentives, as well as looking at some of the local impacts.

My new favourite sentence in a report ever is “This surely does not require any proof because everyone is well aware of the ongoing sand mining on the river banks here.” Which obviously lacks academic rigour but is also true. It is true! Specifically in India, and in this situation, where the sand mining takes place by hand at night right near where people live.

One of the ways in which illegal sand is getting transported around India is by overloading sand trucks. That is, trucks which are legally allowed to transport sand are overloaded between 1 to 7 tonnes over their legal carrying capacity in order to sneak extra sand through.

I have recently learnt about “Deshi Pandupis” or Desi Submarines. This is the use of underwater machines to illegally dig out sand!

Anyway that’s your sand piracy update for the quarter. Come back soon. Or talk to me about sand piracy at any time.