A steel plant disaster that killed more than 100 tons of fish and rained economic devastation on Vietnam’s central coast was conspicuously absent from a list of 2016’s top environmental events last year released on Friday by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.
While the government listed its Aug. 31 teleconference on environmental protection and the discovery of copper and uranium ore in the central highlands among the official Top 10, there was no mention of what may have been Vietnam’s biggest news story of 2016.
Vu Minh Son, head of the agency in charge of issuing awards under the environment ministry, said the Formosa disaster didn’t make the list because it was a disaster and because only "positive" news made the list.
"In general, an event must have a positive significance or make a contribution to the country to be able to meet our four criteria, and an environmental disaster is obviously beyond those standards," Son told Vietnam's Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.
Formosa Plastics Corporation of Taiwan acknowledged in June that a steel plant run by its subsidiary, the Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corporation, was responsible for a 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 four central provinces.
The company pledged to pay $500 million to clean up the spill and compensate people affected by it, but the government has since faced protests and lawsuits over the amount of the settlement and the slow pace of the payouts.
The disaster sparked an outpouring of news stories throughout the country and the world and was also the focus of rare public protests in Vietnam, where dissent is tightly controlled.
Fallout from the disaster continued to make news throughout 2016 as people affected by the disaster filed hundreds of lawsuits over the lack of transparency in the compensation process and the low amount of money paid out.
At least a dozen arrests have been connected to protests over the disaster.
Reported by RFA's Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.