It is illegal to install an undersea sewage pipe, Vietnamese environment minister Tran Hong Ha has told Taiwanese steel company Formosa, which is the main suspect in an ongoing environmental disaster that has caused mass fish deaths in several central provinces.
Ha led a working team of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to inspect Formosa, a major firm in Vung Ang Economic Zone in the central province of Ha Tinh, on Thursday.
“Under Vietnamese law, it is illegal to install an undersea sewage pipe. We will take measures to inspect and monitor this sewage system,” he said.
Although the environment ministry has not yet found evidence to prove any direct link between Formosa’s wastewater discharge and the environmental disaster, it will continue to inspect Formosa to find "any possible indirect link," Ha said.
According to Ha, the ministry will order Ha Tinh’s Department of Natural Resources and Environment to work with Formosa to review the company’s wastewater treatment system. He ordered Formosa to regularly provide data related to wastewater to the department.
The minister also apologized for the ministry’s "slow response" to the environmental disaster, which caused public uproar.
He said the ministry is still conducting tests on the dead fish and will soon issue instructions on the catching and consumption of seafood.
The ministry organized a press conference late Wednesday, three weeks after the first fish deaths along the central coast were reported.
It said the mass fish deaths were possibly caused by chemical toxins discharged by human activities on the land and in the sea, and red tide – a phenomenon caused by algal blooms.
It said that authorities did not have evidence to link the disaster to Hung Nghiep Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Company (FHS), as the Formosa company the province is officially called.
“Tests did not show that the sea water’s safety indexes failed to meet required standards,” deputy minister Vo Tuan Nhan told the press.
Most experts and scientists approached by Thanh Nien rejected the theory of red tide, saying it was not convincing.
Dr. Le Xuan Canh, director of the Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources, said red tides usually happen near the water’s surface, so they will not kill deep-sea fish.
Fishers in the central region have found many kinds of deep-sea fish that were apparently poisoned and washed ashore since early this month.
On the other hand, red tide would cause the seawater to have a distinct smell, but that is not the case, he said.
Dr. Vu Trong Hong, former deputy minister of fisheries, said he believed that a sea current brought toxic chemicals stemming Ha Tinh southward to Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien-Hue provinces.
The Vietnam Fisheries Society also rejected the red tide theory, saying it believed that the fish died because of toxic chemicals discharged by humans.
It asked relevant authorities to clarify how many sewage pipes were installed to discharge wastewater into the sea in Ha Tinh’s Ky Anh Town, the place where the first fish deaths were reported.
It demanded that authorities investigate how Formosa imported 300 tons of chemicals to clean the sewage pipe and how it used the chemicals.
On Thursday, Ha Tinh government provided 22 kilograms of rice each to 4,500 affected households who make their living by fishing in five communes in Ky Anh Town. It also allocated VND750 million (US$33,652) to seafood farmers directly affected by the environmental disaster.