HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Vietnam's government announced Thursday that a Taiwanese-owned steel plant was responsible for massive fish deaths along the central Vietnamese coast and said it has pledged to pay $500 million in compensation.
The head of the Government Office, Minister Mai Tien Dung, told a news conference that the subsidiary of Taiwan's Formosa Plastics Group was responsible for an estimated 70 tons of dead fish that began washing ashore along more than 200 kilometers (125 miles) of coastline in four central provinces in early April.
Dung said the subsidiary, Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corp., located in the Vung Anh economic zone in Ha Tinh province, has agreed to pay $500 million to compensate affected people, clean up the environment and help fishermen find new jobs.
The $10.6 billion steel complex, which includes a steel plant, a power plant and a deep sea port, has been conducting test operations. Dung said problems during the test run caused waste water to be discharged into the sea containing toxins such as phenol and cyanide that exceeded allowable limits.
The company's chairman, Chen Yuan Cheng, apologized in a video shown at the news conference.
"Our company takes full responsibility and sincerely apologizes to the Vietnamese people ... for causing the environmental disaster which seriously affected the livelihood, production and jobs of the people and the sea environment," he said.
Cheng also pledged to resolve the shortcomings of the waste treatment facility to ensure there would be no repeat.
The pollution has badly affected fisheries and tourism in the four affected provinces of Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien Hue.
It also sparked protests in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Ha Tinh. The protesters were swiftly dispersed by authorities and many were briefly detained.
Minister of Information and Communications Truong Minh Tuan said the authorities will not tolerate abuse of the incident to stir unrest.
"Our position is that we respect the legitimate anger of the people. We, however, will not accept the abuse of that anger to instigate the sabotage of the (Communist) Party and government."
Tuan said law enforcement agencies will consider whether to launch a criminal investigation into the incident.
Deputy Minister of Planning and Investment Dang Duy Dong told the news conference that the government wants to attract foreign investment that is technologically advanced and friendly to the environment, and will not lure investment at any price.
"We will not trade the environment for foreign direct investment," he said.