Sugar factory prime suspect behind mass fish deaths in Vietnam lagoon

Large numbers of fish and prawns at a lagoon in south-central Vietnam’s Khanh Hoa Province were found dead on Monday, with locals pointing to wastewater from a local sugar factory as the main suspect

Dead fish are washed ashore at Thuy Trieu Lagoon in Khanh Hoa Province in this still image taken from the footage provided by locals.

Massive amounts of dead fish were reported at five hectares of fish and prawn farms at the Thuy Trieu Lagoon in Cam Thanh Bac Commune, Cam Lam District in Khanh Hoa, with damages estimated at billions of VND. (VND1 billion = US$44,643)

Ho Tho, chairman of Cam Thanh Bac’s administration, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper on Thursday that local authorities were being bombarded with complaint letters from local farmers denouncing the nearby Khanh Hoa Sugar Factory dumping untreated wastewater into the lagoon, killing the exposed marine life.

Do Van Sang, owner of a 2,100-square-meter saltwater snail farm in the lagoon, said he spent Sunday evening filling his farm with water from the lagoon to supply his stock.

By the time he awoke Monday morning, his snails had all floated lifelessly to the surface, causing him an estimated VND200 million ($8,900) in losses.

Similarly, local farmer Nguyen Van Tin said four metric tons of sea snails and 160,000 prawns in his farms had been killed shortly after he had let in water from the lagoon.

“I stopped letting water into the farm after realizing it was blackish and had a foul smell,” Tin said.

“After about 30 minutes my prawns started to die, and by the next morning the snails and prawns in each of my three farms were all dead.”

According to Tuoi Tre’s observation, dead fish were still washing ashore at the lagoon on Thursday morning, while farms owned by about seven households in the area were directly affected by the unexplained incident.

Suspecting the nearby Khanh Hoa Sugar Factory as the culprit behind the mass fish deaths, a group of locals took it upon themselves to inspect the factory’s sewage discharge, where they found black and unbearably smelly water being dumped directly into the surrounding environment.

The group filmed their discovery and submitted the evidence to relevant authorities for further investigation.

Dead fish are washed ashore at Thuy Trieu Lagoon in Khanh Hoa Province in this footage provided by locals.

On Thursday morning, a joint inspection team dispatched by the provincial Department of Natural Resources and Environment, accompanied by local authorities, collected samples of the black wastewater for lab testing.

At a meeting on Monday with provincial officials, representatives from the sugar factory attributed the incident to a blocked sewage ditch, which caused wastewater to overflow into a nearby rain drainage system and be discharged into the environment.

“The concentration of contaminants in our sewage is sometimes too much for the treatment system to handle and can lead to blockages,” a factory representative explained.

According to the People’s Committee of Cam Lam District, the Khanh Hoa Sugar Factory had been penalized multiple times for violations concerning sewage discharge prior to the current incident.

The factory has been temporarily closed since Monday afternoon for further investigation into its operations.

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