About 1,000 villagers from Thach Ha district in Vietnam’s north central coastal province of Ha Tinh on Monday submitted a complaint to the local People’s Committee office about what they consider to be unfair compensation for those affected by a Taiwanese steel plant’s toxic chemical spill.
The group of petitioners, which included a priest and Catholics from Lang Khe church in Vinh diocese’s Thu Chi parish, argued that the amount of compensation offered to them is not enough to cover the losses they have suffered in the country’s worst environmental disaster.
Vietnamese state media has estimated the losses of those in Lang Khe alone at about 41 billion Vietnamese dong (U.S. $1.8 million).
The petitioners also demanded that local authorities pay compensation to each family that signed the complaint they submitted.
Formosa Plastics Corporation of Taiwan acknowledged in June that its steel plant run by Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corporation was responsible for the release of toxic chemicals in April that killed an estimated 115 tons of fish and harmed the livelihoods of more than 200,000 people, including 41,000 fishermen, in Ha Tinh and three other central provinces.
Formosa pledged to pay $500 million to clean up the spill and compensate people affected by it, but the government has faced protests over the amount of the settlement and the slow pace of the payouts.
“We came here to the village People’s Committee to demand our rights because our families have been affected by the sea pollution caused by Formosa,” said one fisherman who declined to give his name.
“They [authorities] explained the situation to us, but things are still not very clear because they still must obey orders from above, though we think this is their responsibility,” he told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
“After the Formosa disaster, things in general became very complicated,” he said. “Most of the issues stem from village authorities, and this is making our lives more difficult. Nobody wants to buy our fish. … I want the government to close Formosa so our sea is clean, and we can have stable lives.”
A female villager who declined to give her name said the protesters want fair compensation from Formosa.
“We want all people who make their living from the sea to get compensation," she said. "We heard that all fishermen will receive compensation, but when we went to receive our payments, we were told that some would not receive theirs.”
Another protester said villagers want Formosa to leave Vietnam.
“And if that does not happen, we want the government and scientists to try their best to protect our sea and make it clean again for the people,” he said.
“I think the local authorities are still trying not to address our issues though we have been suffering,” said the man who did not provide his name. “The way they talk indicates that they want to avoid responsibility or cover up something. … We only demand compensation from Formosa, not from the government.”
The petitioning comes two days after about 300 people from Thach Lac village in Thach Ha district protested in front of the village People’s Committee, demanding an explanation from local authorities after one resident was injured by a committee security guard.
Before the protest, village leaders and the heads of some hamlets held a meeting to assess the losses and prepare a plan for issuing compensation payments, according to state media.
But just as the meeting was ending, an argument erupted when a group of villagers rushed into the office to ask why they were not eligible to receive compensation.
A security guard attacked a villager named Tran Van Ro who had to be taken to a local hospital, according to state media.
After officials mobilized police to restore calm, the protesters demanded that local authorities come out of the office and speak directly with them, but they refused.
They protesters dispersed at about 7 p.m., news reports said.
In early October, thousands of demonstrators converged on the Formosa steel factory in Ha Tinh to press claims over the toxic chemical spill. The protest followed filings in September of some 500 individual lawsuits demanding compensation from Formosa.
On Dec. 7, Vietnam’s environment minister promised representatives of fisherman from Ky Anh district of Ha Tinh province that the government would address their concerns about the disaster that has devastated Vietnam’s central coast and promised that more money would be released at a later stage to cover vocational training and low-interest loans so fishermen could buy bigger boats allowing them to fish further out at sea.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.