Fine Feared Too Small for Dead Fish Damage in Vietnam

16 August, 2016

Observers and activists in Vietnam are concerned about a fine against a foreign-owned steel factory for polluting ocean waters along the coast.

The observers and activists say the record pollution fine would not pay all victims of the environmental disaster. They also say it does not send a strong enough warning to other export manufacturers.

The steel factory, Formosa Ha Tinh, was accused of letting toxic waste pollute the ocean in April. The pollution caused 80 tons of fish to wash up on coastal beaches.

In June, the government fined the Taiwanese-financed steel plant $500 million for fish deaths along 200 kilometers of a coastline southeast of Hanoi. That is believed to be the largest fine ever against a company in Vietnam.

The plant apologized and agreed to clean up the wastewater system. But people familiar with the issue say the fine cannot cover the continued losses to fishermen, seaside businesses and local people. Some have developed skin diseases from touching the water. The sale of seafood has slowed throughout Vietnam. That has hurt the fishing industry.

More than 5000 fishermen in Nghe An province and 700 in Ha Tinh province held protests on Sunday against Formosa.
More than 5000 fishermen in Nghe An province and 700 in Ha Tinh province held protests on Sunday against Formosa.

Citizens hope Vietnamese officials will test the ocean water to make sure it is safe.

Other foreign investors are watching

How involved the Vietnamese government gets in the fish death case will send a message to foreign investors. Some people think the government went easy on Formosa Ha Tinh to protect the company's $10 billion investment in Vietnam.

Foreigners have built export-manufacturing factories in the country to save on costs. Those plants helped to expand Vietnam's economy by 30 percent over the past five years to $193 billion in 2015.

Le Cong Dinh is a lawyer at a law office in Ho Chi Minh City. He said the government will use the fish kill fine as an alert to all doing business in Vietnam. "... [W]e want them to comply with the laws, and satisfy the condition of the environment," he added.

Environment Minister Tran Hong Ha told local media in June the fine covers only direct material damages. The money does not cover psychological losses to fishermen, who suffered a drop in earnings. He called the fine "too small."

Vietnamese living in Taiwan protested last week. They called for the steel plant's investor -- Formosa Plastics Corporation -- to leave Vietnam.

Criticism of government

Vietnamese officials say the fish deaths affected about five million people. Some have not recovered, said Duc Truong, an independent reporter and member of the non-governmental organization Brotherhood for Democracy.

Fishers in the oceans near the plant are catching less fish than a year ago. Fish sauce producers are suspected of using the dead fish illegally, Duc and other activists said.

An activist said environmental experts should test the water quality of the once-polluted seas. Tran Bang is an engineer and activist in Ho Chi Minh City. He said an independent report showed high levels of six chemicals. But officials in the coastal city of Da Nang told local media in April that its waters were already safe for swimming.

I'm Anne Ball.

Ralph Jennings wrote this story for VOANews. Jim Dresbach adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

toxicadj. containing poisonous substances

beachesn. areas covered with sand or small rocks that are next to an ocean or lake

alertn. a message that tells people there is some danger or problem

complyv. to do what you have been asked or ordered to do