Vietnam police compensate fishermen in rotted octopi case

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Police in Hai Duong Province negotiate with octopus traders in Ho Chi Minh City's Can Gio District on the amount of compensation they would pay after its environmental police illegally seized an octopus batch and let it spoil on May 27, causing Can Gio fishermen a reported loss of VND 1 billion. 

The Hai Duong Police Department has paid VND650 million (US$30,895) to fishermen as compensation after its environmental police officers inappropriately seized a batch of fresh octopi and then let it spoil more than two weeks ago.

The seizure had reportedly caused losses of nearly VND1 billion to hundreds of fishermen in Ho Chi Minh City's Can Gio District. Vietnam's 2012 annual per capita income was $1,555.

Speaking to Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper Wednesday, Colonel Pham Van Loan, a deputy director of the Hai Duong Police Department, said the provincial police will continue to investigate to identify each environmental police officer who "did wrong" and "caused damages" and force them to repay the department their own.

"Of course we did not use the government budget to compensate [the fishermen]," Col. Loan said, adding that it would have been illegal to do so.

The money was borrowed from a Hai Duong acquaintance now living in HCMC, said Colonel Cao Ngoc Lan, another deputy director of the Hai Duong police.

The VND650 million figure was agreed to at 8 p.m. Tuesday after more than six hours of negotiations between the Hai Duong police and the 17 octopus traders representing the Can Gio fishermen, Lan said.

By 9:15 p.m., the traders had received the money for over 1.8 tons of octopi after deducting the weight of packing materials from the original count, which was over two tons, Tuoi Tre reported.

Lan said the environmental police who seized the octopi batch had been "careless and negligent."

The provincial police will also punish the director and deputy director of the environmental police force for their management, together with the officers who directly made the seizure, according to Loan.

Nguyen Van Dong, a fisherman in Can Thanh District, said: "We only thought that [we] filed complaints to vent our frustration, and did not dream of receiving compensation."

The case

On May 27, the truck carrying the Can Gio octopi catch was en route from Hanoi's Noi Bai Airport to Quang Ninh Province's Mong Cai Town more than 300 kilometers away when it was pulled over by local traffic police in Hai Duong Province's Chi Linh Commune.

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The truck and octopi were sent to the provincial police department's environmental police division on the grounds that the goods "were of unclear origin and had no quarantine certificates."

Nguyen Quang Hung, the truck's driver, said the police only allowed him to take back the truck and unpreserved octopi when they started spoiling at around 4 a.m. on May 28, at which point he refused to accept the rotting animals.

Meanwhile, Senior Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Trong Thai, deputy director of the environmental police division, said the driver was responsible for the octopi spoiling since his office had allowed the latter to take back the vehicle and goods at 1:15 a.m.

However, Tuoi Tre newspaper found that official permission for the truck to leave was not granted until 10 a.m.

A few days after the bust, fishermen in Can Gio and the traders demanded that the Hai Duong environmental police compensate them for their losses, but the police refused, saying they did nothing wrong.

Loan of the Hai Duong police had said the consignment was destroyed on June 4 as it had "disintegrated and was causing pollution."

The traders then took their complaints to the Ministry of Public Security, prompting the ministry to ask local police to issue a report and assign its chief inspector to investigate the case.

Lawyers at the time said that the environmental police had overstepped their bounds by checking the octopi batch's quarantine papers, as that duty falls under the authority of the animal health agency. Furthermore, they said and that the octopus consignment did not require quarantine papers.

Do Huy Long, a senior official with the Department of Animal Health under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, said only aquatic products that originate from a region where there is widespread illness among its marine creatures require quarantine papers.

But Long said his department's HCMC branch had confirmed that there are no health problems with octopi in HCMC in general and Can Gio District in particular. 

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