Mahathir government banned sea sand export last year over environmental concerns, says Malaysian minister

Malaysia's Minister of Water, Land and Natural Resources Xavier Jeyakumar dismissed claims that the sea sand export ban was targeted at Singapore's reclamation works.
Malaysia's Minister of Water, Land and Natural Resources Xavier Jeyakumar dismissed claims that the sea sand export ban was targeted at Singapore's reclamation works.PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia imposed a ban on all exports of sea sand due to environmental concerns after the new government took office last year, its Minister of Water, Land and Natural Resources Xavier Jeyakumar said on Thursday (July 4).

He also said the ban was not linked to Singapore's reclamation works.

"When we took over the government, we decided the sea sand will not be exported to any country," said Mr Xavier, speaking on the sidelines of a Parliament session.

"It is not just to Singapore. We have stopped exporting to any other countries outside Malaysia," he added.

But river sand would continue to be exported, he said, including to Singapore.

Sea sand is mostly used for land reclamation, while river sand is a core component in construction materials like cement.

Mr Xavier dismissed claims that the sea sand export ban was targeted at Singapore's reclamation works.

"There is nothing to do with that. Singapore can always buy sand from other countries who are exporting sand in case they want to do reclamation," he said.

"Silica is exported to Singapore because there is a demand for silica sand in the industry," he added.

Silica sand is often used as a raw material for industrial items like glass, chemicals and plastics.

Reports claim that Kuala Lumpur is concerned that Singapore has expanded by a quarter in size since independence.

Malaysia exports roughly two million tonnes of river sand to countries such as Singapore, China, India, Mauritius and Brunei, Mr Xavier said.

Sea sand mining, however, has been limited to domestic usage, with the bulk of it channelled to Penang and Melaka, which require a total of 15 million tonnes to complete ongoing reclamation projects.

Singapore's Ministry of National Development said the country has multiple sources of sand and is also reducing its reliance on sand.

"Sand is imported on a commercial basis from various countries to ensure resilience in our sand supply. Suppliers are expected to abide by the laws and regulations of the source country," said a ministry spokesman in response to queries.

These regulations can range from sourcing sand from legally permissible areas, to complying with environmental protection laws and possessing the relevant export permits and documentation.

Singapore has also been encouraging industry to reduce the reliance on sand, the ministry added.

 

"Most recently, we piloted a polder development in Pulau Tekong, which reduces the volume of sand needed as compared to traditional reclamation. The Government will continue to work with industry players to explore new and innovative means to reduce our reliance on sand," the spokesman said.

The technique of empoldering, traditionally used by the Netherlands, will be employed in land expansion in Pulau Tekong. This involves building a dyke around the area to be reclaimed and draining water from it, creating a low-lying tract of land below sea level called a polder. It is said to reduce the volume of sand needed.

Additional reporting by Rachel Au-Yong