For months now, sand thieves have been destroying banks on the Nhu Nguyet River in Bac Ninh province, threatening to sink several centuries-old historical relics there. When cornered, they fought back with machetes and knives.
It is estimated that the illegal sand miners steal away more than 500-600 cubic meters of sand in Tam Da commune.
When Tuoi Tre arrived at Mieu Temple on Nhu Nguyet riverbank on a late Wednesday night, they found numerous people on many boats busy digging, loading and sucking away patches of sand.
Due to such unbridled mining, Mieu Temple, one of the national relics recognized by the government in 1980, is on the verge of collapse into the river.
Yet, there was no sign of a night raid, a patrol or the presence of a local official on that night.
Ngo Van Tu, who has guarded the temple for years almost cried, saying “Those sand pirates! They are coming again with another 6 boats tonight and will leave full of sand”.
“Now they are digging deeper for more, they are just afraid of no one”.
Tu took us to a ‘riverbank’ behind, which now looks like a bare quarry with signs of violent excavations.
Meanwhile, Go Guom relic, a natural grassy mound nearby where weapons and coins from 11th century were discovered, is now cut off from the temple by water, lying isolated like a deserted islet.
One kilometer from the area is Phan Dong, another temple where locals worry it is just a matter of time before it sags into the river.
The soil has started to slip off into the water.
In front of the temple, bamboo trees grown to prevent soil erosion are now only some inches away from the waterfront, exposing even their deepest roots.
Take law into own hands
These days, locals in Tam Da commune have to resort to violence to protect such valuable relics and the riverbanks.
They prepare broken bricks and beer bottles to throw at the sanding boats whenever they come.
Yet, it seems not to be working at all.
“Each boat usually has 4-5 men who are all armed with sticks, machetes and knives. They are ready to fight back fiercely,”
“They come in groups, so usually it is hard to do anything else,” Tu said.
These sand pirates prove they aren’t afraid of the local government as they have several times stolen sand right in front of the People Committee’s Hall.
Vu Dinh Minh, deputy head of the Committee, related an incident where he mobilized police to catch the thieves red-handed only to find that they have loaded sand onto the policemen’s boats, effectively weighing down and anchoring them.
“They even dared to wrap cloth around the propellers of our police’s boats, which immobilized the engines,” Minh added.
Locals have written to higher authorities, in hopes of a solid solution, but so far, they have not received any answer.