Vietnam too slow to act on mass fish deaths: Government office

By An Hong   May 6, 2016 | 04:58 pm GMT+7

Government office chief Mai Tien Dung has said that Vietnam has been too slow to respond to the unprecedented mass fish deaths that have plagued central coastal regions in recent weeks due to a lack of experience.

“It’s generally agreed that we have acted too slowly. This is the first time an incident like this has happened so ministries, government agencies and local authorities have no idea how to handle the situation. Local authorities have been slow to report to the central government and the Prime Minister,” Dung was quoted by the government's online portal as saying. 

Vietnam has asked international experts to help local scientists and government agencies to determine the cause of the fish deaths.

The PM has ordered his cabinet to set up working groups in the central provinces of Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien – Hue to help local fishermen and aquatic farmers who have suffered from the disaster.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment has been assigned to make official statements regarding the cause of the mass fish deaths. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment will also conduct thorough inspections of factories that may have discharged chemical wastewater into the sea.

The State Bank of Vietnam has order commercial banks to either offer low lending interest rates or extend the duration of debt repayments to fishermen in the affected areas to help them recover from the huge number of dead fish on aquatic farms and in waters off the central provinces.

The Ministry of Public Security is investigating whether individuals or organizations should face criminal charges for causing the problem.

The Ministry of Industry and Trade has set up working groups to check on Taiwanese steel maker Formosa's wastewater outlet in order to clarify whether the company cleaned the outlet using chemicals without informing environmental agencies.

Formosa is reported to have bought about 380 tons of cleaning chemicals last year and 220 tons this year. The steel maker used 50 tons to clean the outlet in the first four months of this year. Vietnamese authorities said the chemicals that Formosa has imported and used so far are all legal.

Vietnam is struggling to cope with the huge number of dead fish that have washed up along a 200km stretch of coast in four central provinces.

In response to public concerns, the government has held only one press conference to tell the media that there are two possible causes for the mass fish deaths. The first is the impact of toxic chemical substances discharged by humans on land or at sea. The second is a natural phenomenon known as a “red tide”. The government also said that there was no proof to conclude that wastewater discharged by the Formosa plant is to blame for the catastrophe.