HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Vietnam's government found a Taiwanese-owned steel plant responsible for massive fish deaths along the central coast and said that the company has pledged to pay $500 million in compensation.
An estimated 70 tons of dead fish that began washing ashore along more than 200 kilometers (125 miles) of coastline in four central provinces in early April.
The head of the Government Office, Minister Mai Tien Dung, told reporters Thursday that Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corp., a subsidiary of Formosa Plastics Group, will pay $500 million to compensate affected people, clean up the environment and help fishermen find new jobs.
The $10.6 billion steel complex, which includes a steel plant, a power plant and a deep sea port, has been conducting test operations in the Vung Anh economic zone in Ha Tinh province. Dung said problems during the test run caused waste water to be discharged into the sea containing toxins such as phenol and cyanide that exceeded allowable limits.
A Vietnamese fishery industry group commended the government's efforts, but said much more needs to be done to bring back the health environment.
"There are no fish or shrimp for fishermen to catch, seafood farming is impossible and tourism industry has also been affected," said Nguyen Tu Cuong of Vietnam Fishery Association. He said most of fishermen did not know how to do other jobs and it's not easy for them to switch.
Phan Thanh An, a fisherman from Quang Tri province, said that for 15 days after the dead fish washed ashore, "I did not catch any live fish, only fish bones."
"I have never seen such massive dead fish like that before," he said, adding that numerous fish died on the sea bed that did not wash ashore.
An, who has been fishing since he was 13, hang up his fishing boat for two months and he said he would sail again next week hoping to catch seafood.
The company's chairman, Chen Yuan Cheng, apologized in a video shown at the news conference Thursday.
"Our company takes full responsibility and sincerely apologizes to the Vietnamese people ... for causing the environmental disaster which seriously affected the livelihood, production and jobs of the people and the sea environment," he said.
Cheng also pledged to resolve the shortcomings of the waste treatment facility to ensure there would be no repeat.
An executive at FHS said on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak to the media that the company will pay the money at a schedule requested by the government.
The pollution has affected fisheries and tourism in the four provinces of Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien Hue. It also sparked protests in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Ha Tinh, but they were swiftly dispersed by authorities and many demonstrators briefly detained.
Minister of Information and Communications Truong Minh Tuan said authorities will not tolerate abuse of the incident to stir unrest.
"Our position is that we respect the legitimate anger of the people. We, however, will not accept the abuse of that anger to instigate the sabotage of the (Communist) Party and government," he said.
Deputy Minister of Planning and Investment Dang Huy Dong said that the government wants to attract foreign investment that is technologically advanced and friendly to the environment, and will not lure investment at any price.
"We will not trade the environment for foreign direct investment," he said.