Millions of dead fish stretched out over 200 kilometres of central Vietnamese beaches are posing the biggest test so far for the new government.
The Communist administration led by Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has been criticized on social media for a lack of transparency and slow response, with thousands protesting in major cities and provincial areas.
The government says it doesn’t know why the wild and farmed fish were found dead on the coast of four provinces from April 6 to April 18. The phenomenon “caused economic and environmental damage, hurt the fishery industry, and particularly resulted in puzzled sentiment among citizens,” it said in a statement.
The incident has heightened concerns about damage to the environment, food safety and how businesses are regulated. State media raised questions about a waste pipe running into the sea from Formosa’s steel plant being built in Ha Tinh province.
Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corp. “is deeply surprised and sorry about” the fish deaths, it said in a statement, adding there is no proven link to the incident. It said its total investment in the Vietnam plant was $10.5 billion, including $45 million for a waste water treatment system. That system has regulatory permits and meets national standards, it said.
The government has said there is no evidence for now to show Formosa was responsible. The fish may have been killed by toxins discharged by human activities or algal blooms known as a red tide, it said.
Even so, thousands protested in sites on Sunday including the capital Hanoi. In Ho Chi Minh City, the crowd of 1,000 carried signs reading “please return a clean sea to us” and “stop discharging waste water into the sea.”