Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has told authorities investigating the mass fish deaths in the last few weeks in four central provinces to take no prisoners.
"We will not shield anyone found causing the pollution," he said at a meeting in Ha Tinh Province Sunday with the participation of all deputy PMs, several Cabinet members, the central bank governor, and leaders of the affected provinces.
“This is a very new problem that has affected people’s lives and properties, businesses and the environment and national security.”
He criticized the tardiness of local authorities in finding solutions and central agencies in releasing information about the disaster to the media and public.
He ordered the Ministry of Science and Technology to work with other agencies and foreign experts to identify the reason for the mass fish deaths.
He instructed the Ministry of Public Securities to find out if any company violated environment protection regulations in the region.
He ordered local authorities to strengthen screening of production facilities on the coast to ensure they do not discharge untreated waste into the environment.
“We are reviewing all facilities without exception, including Formosa.”
On Sunday the Vietnam Environment Administration announced that water samples taken off the coast in the central provinces of Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien – Hue all proved to be safe.
The samples taken from four beaches over several days, the agency said.
The Ministries of Agriculture and Rural Development and Health have confirmed that offshore seafood is safe for human consumption.
“[Seafood in] offshore waters, 20-30 nautical miles off the coastline, are safe. This is not an assumption but a result of our scientific research, monitoring and supervising,” Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Cao Duc Phat said.
Government agencies are testing seafood for safety right at fishing ports in the region to ensure safety, he said.
Hundreds of tons of fish have washed ashore in recent weeks in Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien - Hue, apparently killed by industrial effluents.
Suspicion has centered on Hung Nghiep Formosa Steel Company, a major company in the Vung Ang Economic Zone, which admitted it has a large sewage pipe going straight into the sea but claimed all its discharged wastewater is treated.
A diver working at the company port in Ha Tinh was diagnosed with copper poisoning, and many others are now getting themselves tested.
Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has ordered that the operations of all coastal production facilities in central Vietnam be reviewed, as the causes behind a spate of fish deaths in the region remains a mystery.
The businesses to be reviewed and inspected include a subsidiary in Ha Tinh Province of Taiwan’s Formosa Plastics, suspected of having a link to the phenomenon, according to the premier.
Phuc said local authorities must tighten inspection on activities of businesses and factories along the coastline to prevent illegal discharge into the sea.
“We will examine all facilities, including Formosa. We will not exclude anyone,” he asserted.
The PM made the order on Sunday afternoon, concluding a four-hour working session with two of his deputies, Trinh Dinh Dung and Vu Duc Dam, as well as leaders of the affected provinces – Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien-Hue.
The nature of the mass fish deaths is “complicated and unprecedented,” in Vietnam, so relevant agencies just failed to properly deal with the situation, Minister and Chairman of the Government Office Mai Tien Dung said at the meeting with the premier.
Local scientists should be gathered to work on identifying the cause, Dung said, adding that opinions of foreign experts are also necessary in providing an objective conclusion.
Hoang Dang Quang, secretary of the Quang Binh’s Party Committee, said local residents, especially fishermen, badly need the final answer on the mysterious phenomenon to be able to resume their job.
At the end of the working session, PM Phuc assessed that the mass fish deaths are serious matter that have severely affected local citizens.
“This is a big and unprecedented problem that impacts people’s lives, property, and business operations, as well as safety and security in the region and the entire nation,” the head of the government remarked.
He added however that despite several shortcomings, “competent authorities have applied comprehensive and consistent solutions to basically stabilize the situation, ensuring social order and security.”
Authorities in some localities were sluggish in proposing prompt solutions to respond to the incident, Phuc stated, adding that they, due to various reasons, did not inform local citizens on the case in a timely manner.
There have been several limitations to the environmental management carried out by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, leading to the decrease in people’s trust, according to the PM.
He tasked the Ministry of Science and Technology with taking urgent coordination with relevant agencies and summoning Vietnamese scientists to figure out the reason behind the fish deaths.
The Ministry of Public Security will be in charge of gathering evidence and imposing penalization on those responsible in accordance with the law, Phuc said.
The prime minister said those individuals and organizations responsible for the incident should be punished, while pointing out some measures, such as providing free rice, to support local fishers who have been under direct impact of the incident.
In related development, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment has announced the evaluation of sea water quality in the four affected provinces, stating that all tested quality parameters are within normal limits.
“Seafood caught in waters at least 20 nautical miles from the mainland is safe and edible,” confirmed Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Cao Duc Phat.
A Taiwanese firm in the north-central Vietnamese province of Ha Tinh has been criticized by the public after stating that authorities must choose between marine life and the steelmaking industry, amid the unexplained mass fish deaths in the region.
Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper conducted an interview with representatives from the subsidiary of Taiwanese corporation Formosa in Ha Tinh on Monday, regarding the question that the firm’s wastewater could be responsible for the deaths.
According to the newspaper's reporters, the number of marine animals living near the sea area where the factory’s wastewater pipe is located has shrunk considerably since the firm started operations.
Chou Chun Fan, head of the Hanoi office of the company, stated that it was a matter of course that the wastewater would affect the aquatic environment to a certain degree.
“I cannot assure you that the activities of the steel factory would not impact marine life. You win some, you lose some,” Pham said.
He said operators of the subsidiary had tried their best to establish a factory that met all standards set by the Vietnamese government, and had been permitted to begin operations as per law.
“You have to decide whether to catch fish and shrimp, or to build a modern steel industry,” the representative said.
“Even if you are the prime minister, you cannot choose both,” he continued.
Regarding the question about the frequency of the firm’s pipeline system cleaning, Khau Nhan Kiet, director of the company’s environmental department, claimed that he could not remember exactly how many times the activity has been completed, adding that the most recent one was in March.
“We only applied a light acid for the cleaning. All wastewater was treated according to regulations after the process,” Kiet said.
According to Chou, the factory is equipped with an automatic monitoring system that can detect whether its wastewater exceeds normal limits, accompanied by a team of employees that carry out regular examinations.
He added that the company sent statistics on the environmental impact of its business operation to the provincial Department of Natural Resources and Environment once every three months.
The statistics are provided by a separate company specializing in environmental technology after thorough analysis of collected samples, Chou elaborated.
In a brief interview with Tuoi Tre, Phan Lam Son, deputy director of the Ha Tinh Department of Natural Resources and Environment, confirmed the above information.
Meanwhile, director of the department Vo Ta Dinh said that it could not be said for sure that Formosa was responsible for the fish deaths.
“All business facilities along the coast are potential suspects, including Formosa and the Vung Ang thermal power plant among others. Activities of boats on the sea should also be taken into account,” Dinh said.
Tonnes of farm-raised and wild fish in the central provinces of Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri, and Thua Thien-Hue have been discovered dead with authorities failing to identify the exact cause so far.
Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Vo Tuan Nhan confirmed on Sunday that the ministry had collected all possible samples, whose test results will be available this week, at which point the cause of the incidents will be revealed.
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Vietnamese authorities arrested two people on Monday for inciting public opinion over the way the government is handling an environmental disaster that has seen tons of dead fish wash up on the country’s Central Coast.
Minh Tam, 46, and Chu Manh Son, 27, were arrested on Monday after they visited the provinces hit hardest by the disaster, RFA’s Vietnamese Service has learned.
According to state television Tam and Son had gone to “interview local people, produce TV reports and post them on anti-state web sites.”
The arrests come as people took to the streets in major cities over the weekend in a rare show of protest over the way the government is handling the disaster.
There were demonstrations reported in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Vung Tau and Da Nang. In Da Nang, police were reported to have intervened and broken up gatherings.
Protests are extremely rare in Vietnam, and the government appeared to signal that it is ready to crack down on demonstrations.
Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc ordered authorities to investigate and apply necessary measures to those who incite people to gather and disturb the public order or adversely affect political security, jeopardizing the economy social order and the investment environment, state media reported.
Protestors told RFA they were shadowed, harassed and beaten.
Former prisoner of conscience Pham Thanh Nghiem told RFA the government’s reaction wasn’t unusual.
“I can assure that what tam and son did was nothing more than to bring the truth to the public,” she said. “What they did was not useless; on the contrary they have a great significance especially at this time of environmental disaster.”
According to VnExpress express, Tam admitted that he joined the Vietnam Path Movement, collected sensitive political information, interviewed dissidents in an effort to spread information on Facebook of the organization in an effort to criticize the Vietnam’s government.
The Vietnam Path Movement, an unregistered civil society organization that campaigns for human rights.
Police confiscated documents related to Tam’s activities in association with Vietnam Path Movement including a chit for a $400 monthly salary. Police say they found evidence that Tam and other members of the organization have received about $3,000 sent from abroad.
According to authorities Son was arrested after he went to Quang Binh province to collect information and pictures to post on reactionary websites to incite people.
Tam was sentenced to 12 months in prison in 2013 with charges of “fraud to steal money,” while son, was sentenced to 30 months in prison in 2011 on an unspecified charge.
While the streets filled up with protesters, Phuc and his government were trying to prove they were making a thorough investigation that would punish the responsible parties.
“Any agency or organization, individual violated laws will have to be subject to investigation based on science evidence and nobody should cover up the issue,” he said according to a report by Vietnamnet.
That includes the Formosa Plastics Corp. steel plant located in the Vung Ang industrial zone. The huge facility is at the center of speculation over the causes of the environmental catastrophe.
Tons of fish have washed ashore in Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien-Hue provinces along a 200-kilometer (120-mile) stretch of the central coast of Vietnam. The dead fish washing up on beaches along the country's central coast include rare species that live far offshore in deep water.
While Formosa denies that there is a link between the fish deaths and the steel mill, the company has been the center of attention during the disaster. A mile-long waste pipe that runs from Formosa’s $10.5 billion steel and port facility.
While Formosa admits it owns the pipe, it is unclear if they had the authority to build or use it.
According to a Rueters report Environment Minister Tran Hong Ha declared the pipe illegal and ordered Formosa todig it up, even after it found no evidence tying its discharge to mass fish deaths that have triggered health fears and public anger.
"We propose to have measures in place to monitor this system after it is elevated, for easy access and surveillance," Ha told Formosa officials and reporters on Thursday.
“We will examine all facilities, including Formosa. We will not exclude anyone,” Phuc said according to a TuoiTreNews report.
Vietnamese authorities are working with scientists from the United States, Germany, and Israel to evaluate wastewater discharged by factories along coastlines in the north-central province of Ha Tinh in a bid to discover the cause of recent mass fish deaths in the region.
Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Tran Hong Ha was cooperating with foreign experts on Monday, who specialize in oceanography, coastal geology, marine environment, and coastal engineering, to assess the activities of factories near the Vung An beach in Ha Tinh.
After working the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, the scientists will continue to cooperate with the Ministry of Science and Technology, said Professor Roberto Mayerle, Director of the Research and Technology Centre Westcoast of Kiel University in Germany.
According to Mayerle, more experts would be invited and the necessary equipment mobilized upon the approval of local authorities, to help the country figure out why such a large number of fish have washed ashore dead in the central provinces.
The professor believed that the team of foreign experts and Vietnamese scientists would soon reach a conclusion.
In a related development, Le Tran Sang, deputy director of the Ha Tinh Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, has confirmedd that tourists have returned to some beaches in the province, namely Thanh Hai, Thach Bang, Xuan Thanh, anh others.
“The number of visitors to these beaches during the current holiday was down 30 to 50 percent year-on-year, while the purchase of local seafood has also reduced by 50 to 60 percent,” Sang elaborated.
“However, the return of beachgoers is still considered a positive sign,” he said.
Vietnamese workers have been enjoying a four-day holiday, starting on Saturday, to commemorate Reunification Day (April 30) and International Workers’ Day (May 1).
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