Scores held as Vietnam breaks up fish deaths protest

Vietnamese protesters during a rally denouncing recent mass fish deaths in Vietnam's central province, in Hanoi on May 1, 2016.
Vietnamese protesters during a rally denouncing recent mass fish deaths in Vietnam's central province, in Hanoi on May 1, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

HANOI (AFP) - Vietnamese police detained scores of people Sunday (May 8) as they broke up a protest against a Taiwanese company accused of being behind a toxic leak that has caused mass fish deaths off the central coast.

The protest in Hanoi, which follows a similar demonstration last weekend, was swiftly dispersed by authorities on Sunday morning, an AFP reporter witnessed, in a communist country where all shows of dissent are tightly controlled.

Several hundred demonstrators had gathered in the heart of the capital outraged at the poisoning of waters near Ha Tinh province that has left tonnes of fish and clams dead and decimated the local fishing industry, accusing Taiwanese steel mill Formosa of overseeing a toxic leak.

"Never has the Vietnamese sea been this badly polluted," army veteran Nguyen Manh Trung, 68, told AFP.

But "the police are now more and more professional in breaking up protests," he added of the scores of people taken away in unmarked cars.

Vietnam's prime minister has vowed to get tough on those responsible for the leak, but an official inquiry has yet to apportion blame.

However state-run media has pointed the finger at a 1.5km waste water pipeline from Formosa's multi-billion dollar steel plant into the ocean.

The company has a bad record of environmental scandals spanning the globe. But it has not formally been linked to the mass fish poisoning.

As the scandal unfolded in April a Formosa communications official was sacked after he said Vietnam needs "to choose whether to catch fish and shrimp or to build a state-of-the-art steel mill". "You cannot have both," the official said.

The company later apologised for the comments and has launched its own inquiry but public anger is snowballing.

Vietnam's central provinces are heavily dependent on seafood, including farmed shrimp, catfish and wild-caught tuna.

Last year the country earned US$6.6 billion (S$9 billion) from seafood exports.