Many shipbuilders in central Vietnam, whose steel-clad fishing boats proved to be of poor quality shortly after delivery, have been accused of paying local fishermen to buy their silence ahead of an inspection into their substandard products.
As many as 18 steel-clad fishing boats in the south-central province of Binh Dinh, built by Nam Trieu Co. and Dai Nguyen Duong Co., had to lie dormant ashore as they were damaged shortly after being handed over to fishermen.
A representative of one of the shipbuilers has said the damages were caused by "too salty seawater".
Binh Dinh has formed an independent inspection team to examine the boats following complaints from their owners.
“This is a serious matter,” the province’s deputy chairman Tran Chau said at a meeting on Friday.
Chau added that the problem has grown even dodgier after some fishermen had demanded that authorities cease the planned independent inspection into their boats.
“This is unreasonable,” Chau said, implying that the shipbuilders had somehow encouraged the fishermen to withdraw their petition.
A row of affected fishing boats in BInh Dinh
Also on Friday, many boat owners have denounced that the shipbuilders had indeed offered to pay hundreds of millions of dong (VND100 = US$4,405) to have them withdraw the call for inspection.
Tran Van Phuc, deputy director of the Binh Dinh agriculture department, said seven fishermen had asked to withdraw their complaints, saying they did not want their boats to be inspected by authorities.
However, on Friday, six of them told the agriculture department that they would not pull the complaints. The only fisherman who did not want his boat to be inspected is Le Hoai Thanh, who said he had received VND250 million ($11,013) from the shipbuilder to fix the ship’s damages.
The constant changes of mind of the fishermen had angered Chau, the provincial deputy chairman.
He requested that the panel formed to independently appraise the fishing boats in question must do their duty, even when the affected fishermen withdraw their complaints against the shipbuilders.
“I have also asked the Binh Dinh police department to call for intervention from the Ministry of Public Security,” he said.
Chau demanded that the case be properly handled and “any heartless shipbuilders with deliberate violations must be strictly sanctioned, even criminally punished.”
Citing a preliminary inspection, Phan Trong Ho, director of the Binh Dinh agriculture department, said the 18 poor-quality fishing boats have been found to be built with Chinese-made steel, instead of South Korean product as contracted.
The quality of the boats’ paint cover was also below standard, Ho told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.
He underlined that the boat engines, supposed to be supplied by Japan’s Mitsubishi, are not authentic products.
“Many of the engines are meant to use for means of road transportation, not fishing boats,” the official said.
Teddy Truong Thuong, a Mitsubishi representative based in Singapore, has confirmed that the engines and power generators installed on eight of the fishing boats in question “show signs of being altered.”
“The machines may have been altered for use in maritime environment and there are signs that the generators are not our authentic products,” the Mitsubishi representative asserted.
A fisherman points to a row of affected fishing boats.
Tran Dinh Son, one of the owners of the poor-quality boats, said that Nam Trieu executives had tried to persuade him to withdraw his complaint against them.
According to Son’s account, the shipbuilder director Nguyen Hoang Tan and his deputy Bui Huu Hung came to meet him on June 5, two days before Binh Dinh authorities started inspecting his boat.
“Tan and Hung gave me VND100 million, asking me to withdraw all petitions I had filed to Binh Dinh authorities,” he said.
The shipbuilder bosses even gave him a petition withdrawal letter prepared by their own, but Son refused to sign.
“Even so, they submitted the letter to authorities without my consent and signature,” Son said.
On June 7, Son returned VND100 million to Tan.
Another boat owner, Thai Van Duyet, also said Tan had offered to give him VND200 million ($8,800) to buy his silence.
“My boat costs VND20 billion [$881,057] and its poor quality had given me hundreds of millions of losses, so I did not accept the offer,” he said.
“I want the issue to be resolved by authorities.”
Tan told Tuoi Tre on Friday that the company did not want to use money to persuade fishermen to withdraw their petitions.
“The money is to help them fix the boats’ damages,” he said.