For those of you who don’t already know, recently there has been some social unrest in Vietnam. A lot of people went out on the street to protest over the mass fish death and the way the government has been handling the situation. As is the case with unrest, there are a lot of people spreading rumors and causing even more unrest. I think it might be helpful to just look at the facts. Below is a complete timeline of all those events: from when the fish started dying on April 6 to today. I only quoted accredited newspapers, and I don’t include rumors spread on social media. Please let me know if there is something I’m missing.
Wednesday, April 6, 2016: Fish and shellfish started dying en masse in Vung Ang, Ha Tinh, Vietnam. By one estimate, 70 tons of fish have been killed.
Friday, April 8, 2016: State-run newspapers started reporting the news of the fish death.
Vo Huu Duat, a local fish farmer, said his fish started dying on April 6, adding that he and his family had had to borrow tens of millions of dong (VND10 million = US$448.6) to begin his operation.
“A total of 500 kilograms of my fish have died and I was not able to save any of them,” Duat complained.
According to Nguyen Thai Thao, another fish farmer, over 4,000 of her farm-raised fish were fine on April 6 but started to die en masse in the afternoon, following a rising tide. (TuoiTreNews)
Thursday, April 21, 2016: Two weeks after the fish deaths were reported, authorities started “looking into whether pollution is to blame for a spate of mysterious mass fish deaths along the country’s central coast.” All the initial signs seemed to be pointing to the environmental factors.
Signs point to the fish having been poisoned by “unidentified substances,” Tran Dinh Du, deputy director of agriculture in Quang Binh province, said, according to the report. (The Guardian)
Several citizens also report that their farm-raised shrimp and clams died after the farmers pumped sea water into their ponds, Nguyen Cong Hoang, head of the Ha Tinh Aquaculture Division, said at the gathering.
Inspectors from the Center for Environment and Disease Monitoring in Aquaculture in northern Vietnam had taken samples of the dead fish, fish feed, and water in the areas.
“According to the center, the mass death was caused by environmental factors. However, the exact pollutants responsible for the situation have not been pinpointed,” Hoang stated. (TuoiTreNews)
In the meantime, fish and shellfish deaths had also been reported in the provinces of Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien-Hue along a stretch of some 200 km (124 miles) on Vietnam’s central coast.
Monday, April 25, 2016: The Hanoi-based representative of the Taiwanese firm Formosa told Vietnam to choose between factory and marine life.
Chou Chun Fan, head of the Hanoi office of the company, stated that it was a matter of course that the wastewater would affect the aquatic environment to a certain degree.
“I cannot assure you that the activities of the steel factory would not impact marine life. You win some, you lose some,” Pham said.
He said operators of the subsidiary had tried their best to establish a factory that met all standards set by the Vietnamese government, and had been permitted to begin operations as per law.
“You have to decide whether to catch fish and shrimp, or to build a modern steel industry,” the representative said.
“Even if you are the prime minister, you cannot choose both,” he continued. (TuoiTreNews)
A diver died.
Nguyen Thi Ngan, director of a general hospital in the north-central province of Quang Binh, confirmed on Monday that Le Van Ngay, 46, had died.
Ngay was admitted to the infirmary on Sunday evening as he was suffering chest pain and difficulty breathing, after working underwater at a construction site in the Son Duong Port, which belongs to Formosa. (TuoiTreNews)
Tuesday, April 26, 2016: Hanoi-based representative of the Taiwanese firm Formosa apologized for his earlier comments. Formosa also sent an official letter to the media.
In a copy of a letter from Formosa to media outlets, the company wrote that an interview Chou gave the media the day before was unauthorized and failed to reflect the company’s views.
“Our commitment is to contribute to the development of Vietnam’s industry and comply with Vietnam’s law, protecting the environment,” Formosa wrote.
In the letter, the company defended its environmental record in Vietnam, telling authorities Formosa has invested $45 million in the waste water processing system of the steel plant Formosa owns in Ha Tinh province. (Radio Free Asia)
“We are completely surprised and sorry to learn of the incident,” the company said. “At this point, we cannot understand what has caused the death of the fish.” (Nikkei Asian Review)
Wednesday, April 27, 2016: The government declared the result of their initial investigation in a press conference. Vo Tuan Nhan, deputy minister of The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, didn’t have a clear explanation of why the fish died. He didn’t know how long it would take to find the results either.
..the government said the fish could have been killed by toxic discharge caused by humans or “red tide”, when algae blooming at an abnormal rate produce toxins. (Reuters)When asked about the deadline to have an answer for the mass fish deaths, Nhan said “it depends on the research” but the ministry is taking urgent measures.“There were similar cases in which it took years to find out the causes,” he said.(ThanhNienNews)
But they said that there was no evidence that Formosa was to blame.
At a news conference to announce the government’s assessment, deputy environment minister Vo Tuan Nhan said: “Thus far, through testing and collecting evidence, there is no proof yet to conclude a link between Formosa and the facility to the mass fish deaths.” (Reuters)
The government also said that the sea water was fine.
“Tests did not show that the sea water’s safety indexes failed to meet required standards,” [Nhan] said. (ThanhNienNews)
However, experts were not convinced by the results.
Dr Le Phat Quoi, a professor at the Ho Chi Minh City National University, toldThanh Nien that the environment ministry’s conclusion was not convincing. It did not publicize detailed data related to the tests on the seawater and the dead fish either, he said.He said there were reports that tests conducted in Thua Thien-Hue Province found some heavy metals, including chromium, in the seawater.He rejected the theory of red tides, saying that harmful algal blooms would have affected a much larger area. (ThanhNienNews)
Thursday, April 28, 2016: 3 weeks after the fish deaths, the Vietnamese government banned the sale and distribution of non-living aquatic products in its central region. (Reuters)
Sunday, May 1, 2016: Thousands of people gathered in Vietnam to protest against Formosa. They were soon repressed by the police.
Hundreds gathered in Hanoi holding banners that said: “Formosa destroying the environment is a crime” and “Who poisoned the central region’s waters?”
Others said: “Formosa out of Vietnam!” and took aim at the government for being aloof in what it now describes as one of its worst environmental disasters.
Demonstrations are rare in Vietnam and uniformed and plain-clothes police are usually quick to suppress them. On Sunday they cleared traffic to allow demonstrators to do a lap of a big lake in the heart of Hanoi. (Reuters)
Wednesday, May 4, 2016: Following the protest, the government ordered an investigation into Formosa’s waste safety protocols.
Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has ordered an investigation into how a Taiwanese-owned steel plant located near central Vietnamese beaches where millions of dead fish washed ashore last month received approval to pipe waste water directly into the sea.
With the official cause of the fish deaths still unknown and the newly sworn-in government struggling to contain growing public anger over the disaster, Phuc said the government was determined to track down the main culprits with “objectivity, honesty, prudence and urgency.”
“This is the most serious environmental incident Vietnam has faced,” Phuc said. (Bloomberg)
At the same time, the petition to the White House asking U.S. President Barack Obama to discuss the issue during his official visit to Vietnam later this month gathered more than 100,000 necessary signatures.
Thursday, May 5, 2016: Even though the government still denied the link between Formosa and the fish deaths, they acknowledged that Formosa had imported 384 tonnes of chemicals in 103 types since 2015.
Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade Do Thang Hai told a government press conference on May 5 that Formosa, the company suspected of causing the mass fish deaths along the central and north-central coast, has imported 384 tonnes of chemicals in 103 types since 2015. (VietnamNet)
Saturday, May 7, 2016: The Vietnamese community in Orange County, California, USA, took to the street to express their anger with the Vietnamese government over the fish deaths.
Sunday, May 8, 2016: People went out on the street for the second time to protest against the government, but again, the protest was soon suppressed. Some newspapers reported that up to 300 people were arrested.
A group of protesters sat on the bank of a big lake in Hanoi before police shepherded them on to a waiting bus, Reuters witnesses said. Demonstrators were also put on buses at a square in front of the nearby Hanoi Opera House.
Demonstrations are rare in Vietnam and are often quickly suppressed by uniformed and plain-clothes police. State-controlled media has not reported any of the demonstrations.
Friday, May 13, 2016: The United Nations said they were concerned about Vietnam’s increasing violation of human rights.
We are concerned about the increasing levels of violence perpetrated against Vietnamese protesters expressing their anger over the mysterious mass deaths of fish along the country’s central coast. We call on the Government of Viet Nam to respect the right to freedom of assembly in line with its international human rights obligations.
Last Sunday, authorities forcefully broke up demonstrations involving around 3,000 protesters in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Tear gas was used to disperse the protesters, and it was reported that about 300 people were beaten and arrested during the protests.
Some women and children were among those arrested and hurt.
All of those detained have since been released. (United Nations Human Rights)
Saturday, May 14, 2016: The Vietnamese government confirmed that Viet Tan, an anti-government group, was responsible for the recent chaos.
Investigation showed that a U.S.-based terrorist organization named ‘Viet Tan’ (Vietnam Reform) has caused social disorder at several locations in the southern city in the name of environmental protection, the municipal Department of Police affirmed on Saturday afternoon.
The group took advantage of the mass fish deaths in central provinces, whose cause has yet to be determined by authorities, and collaborated with other accomplices from inside and outside the country to incite protests.
‘Viet Tan’ members also formed several groups to support the protestors, including handing out snacks, water, and money to them as well as preparing banners and slogans, officers said. (TuoiTreNews)
People were using social media, mostly Facebook, to organize the next protest.
Many pieces of information have been spread across social media, calling for protests at crowded places in downtown Ho Chi Minh City, namely the Nguyen Hue Walking Street, 23/9 Park, and the ‘backpacker area,’ officers stated. (TuoiTreNews)
The Vietnamese government unofficially blocked Facebook.
Citizens have been using Facebook to organize rallies, which is likely the cause of the shutdown.
Instagram also appears to have been affected, according to reports.
In addition to helping protesters organize, social media has been used to share photos of people at rallies, holding up handwritten signs that read “I choose fish.”
According to the Israeli proxy service Hola, whose software would be used to route around internet censorship like this (and which is capitalizing on this situation by way of press releases), both Facebook and the photo-sharing app Instagram were blocked on Sunday.
The company says it experienced a significant surge in downloads following the Facebook blockade.
“Though security forces have been preventing protesters from gathering in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, many citizens have been using Facebook to exchange information and organize rallies, thus the government is presumed to have shut the website down,” the company wrote on its blog. (TechCrunch)
The Ministry of Science and Technology also announced that they “have almost found out the cause of the fish deaths” and they would soon publicize it. (This link is in Vietnamese)
On the same day, Little Saigon’s protest continued.
Sunday, May 15, 2016: The third protest
For the third weekend in a row, public protests have taken place in Vietnam — a rare occurrence in a country whose government is described by Human Rights Watch as one of the most repressive in the world — following the mysterious death of an estimated 100 tons of fish which washed ashore in the country’s impoverished central coastal region last month. (Vice)
Monday, May 16, 2016: The Vietnamese government dismissed the United Nations’ human rights concern.
Ambassador Nguyen Trung Thanh said the statement by Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, made on Friday on the alleged violence carried out against Vietnamese protesters is “inaccurate, unobjective and unverified.” (TuoiTreNews)
May 23-25, 2016: U.S. President Barrack Obama’s official visit to Vietnam. Let’s see what will happen.