Taiwanese steel firm bows to growing pressure with apology for shocking remarks on Vietnam's mass fish deaths

By Duc Hung, Vuong Anh   April 27, 2016 | 03:41 pm GMT+7
Taiwanese steel firm bows to growing pressure with apology for shocking remarks on Vietnam's mass fish deaths
Leaders of Hung Nghiep Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Company (FHS). Photo by Duc Hung

Leaders of Taiwanese steel corporation Formosa have apologized for a shocking statement made by one of their executives on April 26 regarding recent mass fish deaths along coastal provinces of Vietnam.

A press conference was held yesterday by Formosa to address the remarks made by Chou Chun Fan – the the deputy chief of the company's representative office in Hanoi  regarding the role Formosa’s wastewater pipe may have played in the mass fish deaths in Ha Tinh.

Deputy Director of Formosa Zhang Funing said Chou’s statements have “seriously undermined” the good relationship between the company, Ha Tinh authorities and the Vietnamese government.

“The statements made by Mr Chou were just personal opinions and our company will take strict disciplinary action,” Zhang said, as he and other leaders bowed their heads in a gesture of apology to the Vietnamese people.

On April 25, reporters from VTC asked Chou whether a wastewater pipe Formosa had installed under the sea near the Vung Ang Economic Zone in Ha Tinh was to blame for all the dead fish.

Chou replied: “Sometimes in order to win something, you have to lose something. It’s impossible to build a steel plant here and keep fish stocks in the surrounding area high at the same time.”

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Leaders of Taiwanese steel company Formosa Ha Tinh bowed to apologize for the remark made on camera that Vietnam should choose between fish or steel plant. Photo by Duc Hung

Responding to reporters’ questions about whether the pipe is to blame for mass fish deaths in four central provinces, Zhang said people should wait for the Vietnamese authorities to determine the cause of the phenomenon.

Formosa’s Director Khau Nhan Kiet said that all the waste discharged by the company is checked thoroughly. Regarding the 300 tons of chemicals that the company imported to clean pipes, Kiet said they had not been used to clean the wastewater pipe.

The press conference was then abruptly ended by Formosa to the surprise of dozens of reporters who attended.

The company did not explain the scale and operation of its wastewater system or quality control procedures on any waste released into the sea. Questions on whether Formosa is responsible for the mass fish deaths in Vietnam's central provinces remain unanswered.

At the beginning of April, fish started washing up along the central provinces of Vietnam, with fish farms near Vung Ang ward in Ha Tinh province the first to report the problem. Since then, thousands of saltwater and freshwater fish have died in the central provinces of Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien-Hue.

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On April 26, dead fish continued to wash up on the shore of Ha Tinh, though the numbers were lower than before. Photo by D.H.

Locals who live along the coast have collected tons of dead fish since then, some weighing up to 50kg. Statistics until April 25 show that Ha Tinh and Quang Binh has recorded 10 tons and 25 tons of dead fish respectively, while a massive 30 tons has been found in Quang Tri.

Since April 20, related ministries and authorities have sent delegations to conduct field surveys, taking fish, water and other samples to establish the cause of the disaster.

On April 25, the investigation established that an oil spill, earthquake or diseases were not to blame for the dead fish. Leaders think there is a strong toxic substance in the environment but have not been able to specifically identify what it is.

Suspicion has centered on Formosa - the major steel company in the Vung Ang Economic Zone which has installed a wastewater pipe going out at sea. A few days before the fish started washing up, the company had flushed the pipe for cleaning. About 300 tons of imported chemicals that the company used are believed to be extremely hazardous.