Taiwan firm Formosa under fire over allegations of pollution in Vietnam mass fish deaths

A villager shows dead sea fish he collected on a beach in Phu Loc district, in the central province of Thua Thien Hue on April 21, 2016.
A villager shows dead sea fish he collected on a beach in Phu Loc district, in the central province of Thua Thien Hue on April 21, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

HANOI (AFP) - Taiwanese conglomerate Formosa was under attack in Vietnam's normally staid state media on Monday (April 25) over allegations of industrial pollution leaching from a multibillion-dollar steel mill that may have caused mysterious mass fish deaths.

Tonnes of dead fish, including rare species that live far offshore and in the deep, have been washing up on beaches along the country's central coast, causing public alarm and hitting local fishermen.

State-run media coverage has focused on a 1.5km waste-water pipeline that runs directly from Formosa's multibillion-dollar steel plant in Ha Tinh into the ocean.

The Taiwanese company this week said local communities needed to consider whether they valued marine life or foreign investment in the area more.

"You cannot have both," Mr Chou Chun-fan, Formosa Ha Tinh's external relations manager told state-run VTC14 television channel, speaking in Vietnamese.

"(You) need to choose whether to catch fish and shrimp or to build a state-of-the-art steel mill," he said, according to a video of the interview posted online.

Although the pipeline itself is legal, Formosa is only permitted to discharge treated waste water into the ocean, according to a report in the state-run Thanh Nien newspaper.

"The problem is what and how (Formosa) discharged," from the waste-water pipe, Deputy Environment Minister Vo Tuan Nhan said, according to the report.

The report also said that Formosa had imported some 300 tonnes of toxic chemicals to clean the waste-water pipeline, a shipment the Vietnam Environment Administration said it was not informed of. The report did not say whether the chemicals had been used.

Local fishermen are claiming that before the company arrived in the area, fish and shrimp were plentiful, but since it began work, fish stocks have plummeted.

Hanoi has dispatched teams of environmental experts to the area to investigate the dead fish.

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 from seafood exports.

Top politicians have said they will consider requesting international help to determine exactly what is killing the fish, and have vowed to bring anyone responsible for the disaster to justice.

"There will be no exceptions," Deputy Prime Minister Trinh Dinh Dung said, according to a statement posted on the government's website.