HANOI • A Taiwanese steel mill has agreed to pay US$500 million (S$673 million) compensation for discharging pollution that decimated Vietnam's fishing industry in several central provinces this year.
Tonnes of dead fish, including rare species that live far offshore, began washing up along Vietnam's central coastline in April, and activists have been demanding answers ever since.
After weeks of investigation, Vietnamese officials laid the blame on Formosa, a Taiwanese conglomerate that is building a multibillion-dollar steel plant in the area where the fish died.
"Violation and mistakes" in building the Formosa plant caused the pollution and "abnormal mass fish deaths", according to Mr Mai Tien Dung, chairman of the government's office, yesterday.
The plant is still under construction. Mr Dung said Formosa, which has a history of environmental scandals, has agreed to pay US$500 million in compensation for the incident, which hammered the local seafood industry and sparked a public outcry.
The Vietnamese authorities have come under pressure to show that foreign investors are not ushered in without controls.
"I reaffirm we will not trade the environment just to attract foreign investment," Mr Dang Huy Dong, deputy minister of planning and investment, told reporters.
Formosa is no stranger to controversy in Vietnam, where anti-China riots at its Ha Tinh steel plant killed three in 2014 and a scaffolding collapse killed 14 last year. The places where the company's scandals happened stretch from Texas to Taipei, where the conglomerate has paid millions of dollars in fines over environmental mishaps.
Agreeing to pay the compensation, chairman Chen Yuan-cheng of Formosa Ha Tinh, a unit of Formosa Plastics Corp, said the company accepted full responsibility for the fish deaths, and asked the Vietnamese people for forgiveness in a video recording that was expected to be televised nationally.
Formosa also pledged not to repeat such violations.
Lawmakers in Taipei warned this month that a firm link between Formosa and Vietnam's fish deaths could damage Taiwan's efforts to bolster economic ties across South-east Asia as the island looks to ease its economic reliance on China.
Frustration over Vietnam's perceived reluctance to blame Formosa led to rallies across the country, with police stepping in to arrest scores of demonstrators.
Formosa drew ire in April when a public relations officer in Vietnam said the country had to choose between protecting marine life and foreign investment.
The employee was later fired and he apologised for his remarks.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG