Testimony by Fr. Nguyen Dinh Thuc, on behalf of Formosa’s victims, before Taiwanese Parliament

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GNsP (08.12.2016) – Testimony by Fr. Nguyen Dinh Thuc, on behalf of Formosa’s victims, before Taiwanese Parliament.

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Dear Honorable Su,

Speaker of Taiwan Legislative Yuan

Taiwan

We are Catholic priests from Vinh Diocese and come from the region which has been affected by the environmental pollution caused by Formosa. We have directly witnessed the disaster and its effects on the Vietnamese people and we ourselves are also victims of the same. We are here today to raise a few issues related to Formosa, a Taiwanese company.

I – A brief recount of the disaster

  1. Past developments

We would like to give a brief recount of the developments of the environmental disaster off Vietnam’s central coast of which Hung Nghiep Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corporation (under the backing of Taiwan’s Formosa Plastics Group) has caused – and what Vietnamese have come to know as “the Formosa disaster”.

The disaster started on April 6, 2016 until May 8, 2016 with mass fish deaths initially appearing in Vung An, Ha Tinh where the Formosa steel plant is based before extending to Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thu Thien Hue Provinces and covering more than 250 km of coastal area. More than 140 tonnes of dead fish and seafood washed ashore, not including the amount of dead fish in the ocean. Deep water species were found washing up ashore and dead fish continues to appear along the coastline.

After much public pressure and despite several statements from Formosa that they were not to blame for the fish deaths, Tran Nguyen Thanh, Chairman of the Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corporation board ultimately apologised and stated Formosa would pay USD$500 million in compensation to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment on June 29.

With the damage much higher than the stated compensation, many Vietnamese have filed lawsuits demanding Formosa for further compensation in damages and have organised protests against Formosa.

  1. Various damages

These are some of the damages, the disaster has caused, according to various news outlets and statements provided by authorities.

– Damages to natural resources, the environment and economy

More than 140 tonnes of dead fish washed ashore and these numbers do not include the amount of fish which died in the ocean. About 40-60% of coral has died off and 50% of fish and plankton, causing major disruptions to the natural food chain and damaging the ecosystem. Aquaculture along the coast also died due to the disaster: “the killing of 5.7 hectares of shrimp farms, the equivalent of 9 million shrimp or 7 tonnes of mature shrimp ready for harvest; 16,313 fish enclosures, the equivalent of 140 tonnes of fish; 6.7 hectares of clam farms the equivalent of 67 tonnes of clams and 10 hectares of crab farms.”

– Statistics regarding income and unemployment

Many people’s lives have been affected by the environmental disaster, leading to unemployment or reduced incomes and a young generation with an uncertain future.

+ 263,000 labourers have been affected in total, including 100,000 laborers’ who have been directly affected.

+ Unemployment: Approximately 14% of laborers’ have lost their jobs. Unemployment has risen: Thu Then Hue: 10.1%, risen 1.6 times; Quang Tri: 13.2%, risen 2.8 times; Quang Binh: 28.6%, risen 7.9 times; Ha Tinh: 16.4%, risen 15.7 times

Jobs which are directly related to the sea include: fishing, trade, aquaculture, fish processing, seafood logistics, restaurant businesses, hotels, motels and tourism… All of these have been seriously affected. In particular, the fishing and fish processing industries have been severely affected, with a loss of 25,000 jobs with nearly 74% of job losses in Ha Tinh compared to prior the Formosa disaster. People still working within the hospitality and tourism industries have been reduced by 33%. This includes a reduction of 54% and 52% of jobs in Ha Tinh and Quang Binh respectively.

+ In regard to income, Quang Binh has been most affected with up to 83.2% of people having their incomes reduced compared to before the disaster.

These numbers are according to the Ministry of Labour – Invalids and Social Affairs, however we believe the situation is much more severe in reality.

  1. People’s concerns

Salt and seafood make up much of our food and traditions. Since the disaster, people have been afraid to use anything related to seafood, not knowing whether the poisonous substances which killed tons of fish will affect people’s health. It has been more than eight months since dead fish started to get washed ashore and we continue to live in fear, not knowing whether to eat fish, use fish sauce or any other seafood products. If we eat these, what will happen to us or our children? How long will this situation last for?

The most alarming issue since the disaster is that the involved parties still have not announced to the public what substances were discharged into the sea, how much of it was discharged and the duration for which it was discharged.

Another alarming fact is that some newspapers in Vietnam have published findings that various fish samples from Ha Tinh were poisoned with cyanide, phenols and in particular, cadmium, lead, iron and chromium. Through various attempts and avenues, we have gathered some samples of the dead fish which washed up off the coast of Xuan Hoa, Quang Trach, Quang Binh which state agencies have confirmed had toxic levels of cadmium and mercury exceeded the legal limit.

Although there hasn’t been official news regarding illnesses, news on social media, it is recorded that there are at least three cases of casualties after eating seafood. A scuba diver working for Formosa also died after examining the poisonous waters. Other scuba divers had the similar symptoms as well.

We faced various obstacles to obtain results of the heavy metal tests present in our body for many unknown reasons. We have only been able to obtain results from one patient at the moment, with results showing higher than normal levels of mercury and lead, with three times the amount of mercury.

According to investigations by the Vietnamese government (which have not been published) since July, “large waste generators in the Vung Ang (Ha Tinh) area which contain toxins such as phenol, cyanide, heavy metals, hydrocarbons (which is the waste of the various processes) were dumped, got dispersed and got spread through ocean currents leading to mass fish deaths.”

People are trying to avoid substances containing heavy metals. We simply need a clear answer regarding to the types of heavy metals which have caused pollution. We need to know its impacts on the environment and people’s health. Its residue now lies in the  seabed and will have a long term impact on Vietnamese future generations. We have learnt about the environmental disaster in Minamata in Japan and we are concerned that Vietnamese people will face the same situation for generations to come.

The most serious concerns among people living in the four provinces of central Vietnam is not the fact of unemployment or hunger but the fear and suspicion of lack of information regarding the disaster. The people in central Vietnam are ultimately not looking for compensation for damages but are demanding to know what the future lies for them and the future generations to come. There have been people who have stated that they do not want monetary compensation but they simply want clean sea and for Formosa to leave Vietnam. We are along with many other people who share the same opinion.

  1. Recommendations

We have provided the following recommendations and hope Your Excellency and honourable members of the Legislative Yuan share the same thoughts:

– Compel Formosa to publicise the type, amount and time period of dumping, dispersion of poisonous substances into the ocean. Assess the impact and longevity these substances have on the environment and on people’s health.

– Work with Formosa to come up with a solution and plan to clean up the environment, adequate compensation in form of damages to those who have been affected and resolve the issue of unemployment. Organise the testing of heavy metal content in people living in areas affected by the disaster.

– Call on Formosa to publicise the waste treatment technology used to clean the environment, have accessible mechanisms in place for people or representatives of civil society organisations to easily monitor Formosa’s waste management. If no assurance is offered for a clean environment, we call on Formosa to cease its operations.

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III. Message

We have long seen Taiwan as a free country addressing and caring for human rights. We have seen images of people seceding from mainland China to create a peaceful place despite the dangers. It reminds us of the English in the 18th century who dared to leave Europe and form a free and prosperous America.

We are also aware of President Tsai Ing-wen’s southbound policy in the past decade. We hope to continue to contribute to the policy and further our economy and strengthen our independence. However, Formosa has made many see Taiwan in a negative light.

As you may know, Vietnam’s long history does not have a positive image of the Han and northern people. In 16 long wars to prevent invasion, 14 wars were against the people from the north. Even today, China continues to assert its sovereignty in the East Sea, provide dangerous goods which contain poisonous chemicals which are sent to Vietnam. This has diminished China’s reputation among Vietnamese.

Despite mentioning these issues, we do not want to promote extreme nationalism which can affect any relationship between Taiwan and mainland China. However, we do want to state here that Formosa has not been transparent in its processes, has been irresponsible and has not respected the lives of Vietnamese, leading people to link Formosa with China and ultimately painting Taiwan in a negative light.

We would like to recall: In May 2014, China brought the HD981 oil rig into Vietnamese waters which led to fervent opposition from citizens. During this time, thousands of people vandalised Formosa and injured many employees. Why? Because Formosa’s investment into Vung Ang was seen negatively and because they were opposed to China. They linked Formosa to China.

The Formosa disaster continues to worsen. Protests in Vietnam are a rare occurrence due to the ongoing repression, arrests and pressure from authorities. However, there have been many recent protests across Vietnam and even a protest of more than 10,000 in front of Formosa on October 2.

We hope that you stand with the people of central Vietnam to understand that their livelihoods are being snatched, their future is being threatened, their lineage is being poisoned, and their children are facing an unknown future… Ms. Su, distinguished guests and honorable elected representatives, can you imagine if you were treated in this manner and the rice you and your children ate may be laced with poison?

Formosa has created a negative image of Taiwan and may affect the image of a free Taiwan among Vietnamese.  We believe that this is not your intention.

We thank you for your time and hope to work together towards a cleaner and safe environment for all.

Rev. Nguyen Dinh Thuc

The Committee of Vinh Diocese to Support Victims of Formosa

Environmental Disaster in Central Vietnam