Vietnamese police yesterday detained scores of people as they broke up a protest against a Taiwanese company accused of being behind a toxic leak that has caused mass fish deaths off the central coast.
The protest in Hanoi — which follows a similar demonstration last weekend — was swiftly dispersed by authorities yesterday morning, a reporter witnessed, in a communist country where all shows of dissent are tightly controlled.
Several hundred demonstrators had gathered in the heart of the capital outraged at the poisoning of waters near Ha Tinh Province that has left tonnes of fish and clams dead and devastated the local fishing industry, accusing Formosa Plastics (台塑) of overseeing a toxic leak at its US$10.6 billion coastal steel plant.
“Never has the Vietnamese sea been this badly polluted,” army veteran Nguyen Manh Trung, 68, told reporters.
However, “the police are now more and more professional in breaking up protests,” he added of the scores of people taken away in unmarked cars.
Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has vowed to get tough on those responsible for the leak, but an official inquiry has yet to apportion blame.
However, state-run media pointed the finger at a 1.5km wastewater pipeline from Formosa’s steel plant into the ocean.
The company has a bad record of environmental scandals around the globe. However, it has not formally been linked to the mass fish poisoning.
As the scandal unfolded last month, a Formosa communications official was sacked after he said Vietnam needs “to choose whether to catch fish and shrimp or to build a state-of-the-art steel mill.”
“You cannot have both,” the official said.
The company later apologized for the comments and has launched its own inquiry, but public anger is snowballing.
Vietnam’s central provinces are heavily dependent on seafood, including farmed shrimp, catfish and wild-caught tuna.
Last year the country generated US$6.6 billion from seafood exports.