Vietnam Scraps Controversial Plan to Dump Sediment in Sea Off Binh Thuan

Mud, soil and sand from a power plant will instead be used as fill in another harbor, says the Binh Thuan provincial government.

File photo of Mui Ne fishing village on Vietnam's south central coast.

UPDATED at 1:30 P.M. on 2017-08-14

Vietnam's environment ministry decided on Wednesday to scrap plans to dump about 1 million cubic meters of sediment into waters off Binh Thuan province, an idea that was met with strong opposition by local residents, fishermen and aquaculture farmers.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment struck an agreement with the Binh Thuan People's Committee to use the mud, soil and sand dredged from the harbor of Vinh Tan Power Company as fill to prevent coastal erosion in another local harbor, instead of dumping it into the sea, according to the website of the Binh Thuan provincial government.

The decision follows acts of protests and an online petition that drew thousands of signatures by citizens, environmentalists and fishermen, who argued the waste would destroy coral reefs and fishing grounds.

On July 15, a group of Ho Chi Minh City citizens tried to stage a walk to Binh Thuan to oppose the sediment project, but were halted on the outskirts of the city by police.

Also last month, 13 civic groups under the control of the Vietnamese government -- including the Vietnam Rivers Network, the Sustainable Energy Alliance and the Sea Life Conservation Center -- signed a petition against dumping the dredging waste into Binh Thuan waters.

The groups argued that the plan to dump the sediment was made without the consent of the public and scientists and without a transparent environmental impact assessment. The petition also cited what the groups said was a record of pollution incidents caused by the four thermal power plants of Vinh Tan.

Their recommendations were sent to 11 senior Vietnamese officials, including Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Tran Hong Ha.

Wednesday's decision came amid continued friction in central Vietnam over a toxic waste spill that occurred in April 2016, polluting more than 125 miles of coastline along four coastal provinces. The disaster killed an estimated 115 tons of fish and left fishermen and tourism industry workers jobless.

Taiwan-owned Formosa Plastics Group later acknowledged it was responsible for the release of the chemicals from its massive steel plant located at the deep-water port in Ha Tinh province’s Ky Anh district.

The company voluntarily paid U.S. $500 million to clean up and compensate those affected by the spill, but the slow and uneven payout of the funds by the Vietnamese government has prompted protests which continue to be held more than a year after the disaster.

Reported by RFA's Vietnamese Service. Translated by Emily Peyman. Written in English by Paul Eckert.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly described the sediment as sludge.