The Ministry of Industry and Trade will inspect a subsidiary of Taiwan's Formosa in the north-central province of Ha Tinh next week, over its alleged link to the recent mass fish death in central Vietnam.
Hung Nghiep Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Co. Ltd. has been notified of the upcoming inspection in a fiat signed on Friday by Minister Tran Tuan Anh.
The inspection is slated the morning of April 26, according to the document.
The ministry does not say why it will look into the operations of Hung Nghiep Formosa, only stating that the working session will cover the company’s “production and environment protection.”
Authorities in Ha Tinh and several neighboring provinces such as Quang Tri and Thua Thien-Hue are scratching their heads over the cause behind the mass fish death discovered along the coastline and at local fish farms.
Farm-raised shrimp and clams also died after farmers in these localities pumped seawater into their ponds.
The Center for Environment and Disease Monitoring in Aquaculture in northern Vietnam had taken samples of the dead fish, fish feed, and water in the areas, with inspectors eventually concluding that the mass death was caused by environmental factors.
The exact pollutants responsible for the situation, according to the Ha Tinh Aquaculture Division, has yet to be identified.
Suspicions however have been raised that the wastewater treatment systems of nearby companies, including Hung Nghiep Formosa, have something to do with the phenomenon.
Dumping wastewater to the sea?
Hung Nghiep Formosa is a steelmaker located in the Vung Ang Economic Zone.
On April 21, when officials from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development met with farmers whose fish farms affected in the mass death, some fish growers said there is a submarine system that discharges wastewater from the Formosa project into the Vung Ang Sea.
Nguyen Xuan Thanh, a farmer in Ha Tinh, said he and some fellow fishermen had detected such a system during a diving trip in 2014.
The pipeline is some 1.5km long, with a diameter of around 1 meter, and is put at the seabed in Vung Ang beach, Thanh told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper on Friday.
On April 4, Thanh and three other fishermen came to area to hunt for fish.
“After diving into the sea we saw the pipeline discharge yellow water,” Thanh said.
“I immediately swam away, thinking the water might be toxic.
“Two days later, the local fish cages incurred the mass death.”
Thanh said he had reported the wastewater discharge system to the local border guard unit on April 15.
However, by the end of Friday, Formosa insisted that they had never discharged wastewater through the submarine system into Vung Ang Sea.
The existence of such submarine wastewater discharge system was confirmed by the Vietnam Environment Administration.
“It is the last part of the whole process of treating wastewater at Formosa,” the administration deputy head Hong Duong Tung told Tuoi Tre. “Wastewater must meet all standards before it is allowed to go through such a system into the sea.”
However Formosa said they would not put the wastewater discharge system into use until June 2016, Tung added.
The section zoned for treating wastewater of the Formosa project is located some 2km away from the coast of Vung Ang, according to some employees at the site.
According to customs at Vung Ang seaport, Formosa has imported nearly 297 metric tons of anti-rust chemicals in the year to day.
While the customs agency said they have no idea what the company would do with the chemicals, the Ha Tinh Department of Natural Resources and Environment said the company had not reported such imports.