Illegal gold dredgers impounded on the Marañon River

The coast guard service based in Yurimaguas on the Huallaga River impounded three industrial dredges on the Marañon River this past week, in the department of Loreto in northeastern Peru, during an operation to eradicate illegal gold mining operations.

None of the industrial-sized dredges, at different points along the river near Saramiriza, had the required permits to operate. All three were operated by Brazilian nationals.

Some 31 gold dredges were also reported earlier this year further northeast, on the Putumayo River close to the Colombian border. According to Radio La Voz de la Selva, coast guard and government authorities in Iquitos denied any knowledge of the operations in an area that also involves drug running.

The Navy coast guard operation on the Marañon follows a series of similar operations in February this year along the Inambari and Madre de Dios Rivers in the southern rainforest of Madre de Dios.

Some 350 marine infantry and police were detailed there to begin destroying over 300 illegal gold dredging operations, which use suction systems to bring up placer gold from deep in the river beds. The operation, however, was suspended when some 15,000 miners turned violent in protests in Puerto Maldonado.

Small and informal gold mining along the riverbeds and swamps in Madre de Dios generates around $900 million a year. Decades of loose or non-existent controls has resulted in serious environmental damage in deforestation and river pollution, and slave labor conditions of under-age workers.

Informal gold mining operations pose a serious threat to the environment and the health of river communities, since cyanide, mercury and other toxic substances are used to recover the gold from the ore.

Earlier this month, the energy and mines commission in Congress approved a bill to ban the use of dredges in gold mining and to regulate and limit the use of other means for gold mining in Amazonian rivers and swamps. The bill, which has yet to be debated in the House, covers gold mining in the departments of Loreto, Ucayali, Madre de Dios, San Martin, and Amazonas as well as the montane and rain forest of Huanuco, Pasco, Junin, Cusco, Puno, Cajamarca and Ayacucho.

Meanwhile, near the coast guard operations area on the Marañon River, a Canadian company, GoldSands Development Company, has a 382 km2 (147.5 sq.miles) concession where it plans to begin extracting gold with Lima-based Swiss Mining. Testing began earlier this year on the Gold Sands project. According to a press release issued to the state news agency Andina, the company will be using an extraction system that will minimize its environmental impact.

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