Hundreds of sporting shooters in Vietnam are continuing to practice without bullets despite a promise that ammunition would be re-stocked by the end of last year.
The earliest shipment of ammunition is not expected to arrive in Vietnam until May, ten months after a contractor won a bid to become the country’s official supplier of sporting ammunition.
The ammunition shortage has become a normal part of Vietnam’s sports shooting community over the past two years, with competitors losing count of how many national shooting championships have been held with athletes running around borrowing bullets from one another.
Beginning in December 2013, under a joint decree issued by the Ministry of Public Security and its sports counterpart, companies must go through a bidding process in order to supply sporting weapons in Vietnam.
In July 2016, a bid was won by the General Army of Economics and Technology (GAET), a corporate structure run by Vietnam’s Ministry of National Defense, which gave hope to local shooters that their thirst for ammunition would finally be quenched after two years of ‘air shooting’.
As of today however, their much needed bullets are still nowhere to be seen.
A GAET representative told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that an order of ammunition could take between three months and two years to complete, as the process involved a lot of red tape given the ‘sensitive nature’ of the goods.
According to the representative, in 2016 GAET was approved to import up to VND43 billion (US$1.92 million) worth of sporting arms, which included rifles, pistols, bullets and skeets.
GAET had worked with the sporting authorities of 12 provinces shortly after it won the bid, he said, but only four of those arrived at successful supply contracts, worth a total of VND12 billion ($535,000).
The representative explained that, since the time GAET had won the bid, halfway through 2016, most local administrations had already completed their budget allocations for the year, and were therefore unable to spare any more for sporting ammunition.
Though administrations can apply for emergency budgets, he added, Vietnamese law requires that any purchase made outside of original budgets be finalized within the same year, which was not possible given that the shipment could take months to complete.
The biggest and most important shipment of 1.5 million bullets, weighing five metric tons, is scheduled to arrive in Vietnam next month, he said.
In August, Vietnamese shooters will be in Malaysia to compete with regional athletes at the 29th biennial Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games).
As the event nears, local shooters have become anxious that they would not be able to properly practice before the largest multi-sport event in Southeast Asia, after over two years without bullets.
Top shooters Hoang Xuan Vinh and Tran Quoc Cuong have already scheduled training programs in Germany, which will commence in May, as concern grows that they won’t be in the best possible shape for the Games.
According to GAET, since 2014, European ammunition exporters have had tighter controls placed upon them due to growing concerns over terrorism.
It can take up to 90 days for an application to export bullets and arms to be processed by European authorities, according to EU regulations.
Recent terror attacks in Europe have also prompted airlines to refuse the transportation of ammunition and explosives, or flammable shipments, which are categorized as dangerous goods.
Most shipments of ammunition must be transported by sea, which makes the waiting time even longer, the GAET representative explained.