Selat Lumut, Port Klang

Wed 29 Mar 2017 04:43
02:54.258N 101:18.516E

A tug with its tow of sand waiting in the entrance to Selat Lumat.

Pulau Pisang and Pulau Besar had been pleasant enough anchorages, enough shelter, not too deep, pretty islands to look at but, with the shipping lanes right next to them, it was a little like free camping alongside a motorway. Our anchor beers were spent sitting on the side of the bridge deck watching the traffic pass by.

Apart from the big ships there was a steady stream of tugs and tows, staying just outside the main channel as we did, but often going the wrong way. They were mostly transporting sand. Perhaps surprisingly, sand has become a hugely important international commodity. The massive growth of cities and roads across the developing world all need vast amounts of sand for the cement (and glass). Indonesia has completely erased at least two dozen islands since 2005 and, in contrast,  Singapore has created an extra 20 square miles over the last 40 years, making it the worlds largest sand importer. It is so hungry for sand that Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam have all restricted or banned the export of sand to Singapore*. However, when we were passing by we saw dozens of old ships kitted out as sand miners, working on the Malaysian side of the Strait, with a convey of barges continually transporting the sand across to Singapore. 

One of the sand miners anchored in Selat Lumut. The bow extension allows them to send a big pipe over to suck in the sand along with sea water. The crane off loads to drained sand into the barges. They all seem to be in as bad a state as this one - repurposed after they are too tired to continue as long distance transporters?

Approaching our overnight anchorage a little way up the Selat Lumut we passed full barges waiting outside and an anchored mining ship just inside. However this night we’d be away from the traffic of the main channel, tucked in just down stream of a little marina, swinging with the tide. We weren’t able to enjoy the bird life along the shores however, nor sit and enjoy the view, as it poured with rain as soon as our anchor was down.

Of course all this mining has massive effects on the environment: changing the routes of rivers, undercutting bridges, muddying fishing waters,  and even removing whole habitats. With the stuff so readily available to some and so desirable by others governments are having trouble controlling the flow. Meanwhile the mining operations are scaling up, we passed some much larger sand dredgers further up the coast. If this continues the coastline and river mouths in this part of the world will soon be unrecognisable and our safe little overnight anchorage might not be here if we pass this way again.

The long pipe out the front sucks up the sand and water, the conveyer of troughs at the back drains it and lifts it onto the conveyer (that’s standing upright right now) which transfers the sand to a barge. 

* Facts and figures from an article in The Guardian, 27th Feb 2017, by Vince Beiser.