Local authorities gather samples of dead fish at a beach in Quang Tri Province. Photo: Nguyen Phuc/Thanh Nien
A fisherman in the central province of Ha Tinh has reported to local authorities that he saw a sewage pipe a Taiwanese steel manufacturer may have installed to discharge wastewater directly into the sea in an area where a huge number of fish have died recently.
Nguyen Xuan Thanh, 36, of Ky Anh town told officers at a border guard station that he found the pipe by chance while diving to catch fish on April 4.
He said the 1.5-km-long pipe was buried under the seabed and covered by rocks and sand bags. It originated at the Formosa Steel Corporation’s plant in the Vung Ang Economic Zone, he said.
“When I saw it, the 1.1-m pipe was discharging a lot of wastewater. The wastewater looked muddy yellow and smelled so bad that I felt suffocated.”
Thanh drew a map to show the location of the pipe to the Deo Ngang Border Guard Station. The station has reported the case to the provincial Border Guard.
Some fishermen in Ky Anh town also told a visiting agriculture ministry team Thursday that they saw a sewage pipe from the Formosa plant going into the sea, and it lies around 13 m under the surface.
Direct discharge or not?
But Formosa representatives have repeatedly denied the accusations that the plant discharged wastewater directly into the sea.
On Thursday Khau Nhan Kiet, director in charge of environmental safety and hygiene of Formosa, told Tien Phong newspaper that all wastewater is treated until it meets safety standards before being discharged into the sea.
He admitted that the 1.5 km pipe the fishermen saw under the sea belonged to the company.
“The pipe was licensed by the agriculture ministry.”
He said the company releases around 12,000 cubic meters of treated wastewater through the pipe every day.
He hoped authorities would quickly find out the reason for the mass fish deaths along the central coast to clear the company’s name.
Since Formosa is a foreign company, it can only be inspected on orders from the prime minister.
Massive fish deaths were first reported around five kilometers from Son Duong Port in the Vung Ang Economic Zone on April 6.
Both wild and farmed fishes have been found dead in some coastal communes in Ky Anh town, causing losses worth billions of dong.
The Northern Environmental Monitoring and Aquatic Diseases Center took samples of water and dead fish for testing and concluded they died because of “toxic agents in the water,” without specifying what agents.
It said untreated waste water discharged directly into the sea had polluted it, causing the deaths, and called on local authorities to inspect wastewater treatment at all companies and industrial parks in Vung Ang.
Mass fish deaths have since been reported in Quang Binh, Thua Thien-Hue and Quang Tri provinces, all on Vietnam's central coast.
According to Quang Tri authorities, local fishermen have collected around 30 tons of fish that washed ashore as of Thursday.
Agriculture ministry teams have visited various locations in the provinces to collect samples of water and dead fish for testing.
The ministry has told authorities in affected provinces to warn people not to eat or sell the dead fish and quickly collect rotten fish to avoid environmental pollution.