Dredgers have been spotted off the coast of Cambodia’s Ream Naval base in government-released photos and satellite imagery. Dredging of deeper port facilities would be necessary for the docking of larger military ships at Ream, and was part of a secret agreement between China and Cambodia that U.S. officials reported seeing in 2019. That deal reportedly granted China military access to the base in return for funding facilities improvements. Cambodian officials have confirmed that China is funding construction at Ream, but maintain that there are no plans for Chinese military access.
A January 16 satellite image from commercial provider Maxar shows two clamshell dredgers just off the coast of Ream accompanied by barges for collecting the dredged sand.
Imagery from Planet Labs shows that both dredgers have remained fixed at these locations since their arrival, which took place between January 13-15. The dredgers were also visible in a photo posted to defense minister Tea Banh’s Facebook page following his January 18 visit to Ream. The photo was taken from the northern half of Ream and shows both clamshell dredgers operating behind another ship, which may be a suction dredger, docked along the coast. Another photo posted by the Secretary of Ream Naval Base shows Tea Banh and his entourage at the same location.
The extent of the planned dredging is unclear, but could mark a significant upgrade in the base’s capabilities. The shallow waters around Ream mean it is currently only able to host small patrol vessels. A deep-water port would make it far more useful to both the Cambodian and Chinese navies.
Construction work has also continued onshore at Ream. Several locations within the main administrative center in the southwest of the base have seen land clearing since AMTI’s last update in fall 2021. Clearing for roads and a possible fence near a Vietnam-funded hospital at the northeast of the base continues, and a small building and several concrete lots have been built along the coast.
Taken together, the scale of recent demolition and land clearing, and especially the new dredging activity, indicates that the base is being prepared for significant infrastructure upgrades.