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Catholics in Vietnam seek compensation for marine disaster

Toxic waste from a Taiwanese-built steel plant in Ha Tinh province poisoned water along a 200 kilometer stretch of coastline

ucanews.com reporter, Vinh City

ucanews.com reporter, Vinh City

Published: September 28, 2016 10:57 AM GMT

Updated: September 28, 2016 11:53 AM GMT

Catholics in Vietnam seek compensation for marine disaster

People in front of the People's Court in Ky Anh town, northern Ha Tinh province Sept. 26 singing hymns and praying while others file petitions with court officials. (Photo of tinmungchonguoingheo.com)

Hundreds of fishermen in Vietnam affected by a marine disaster are swamping a court to sue a Taiwanese industrial plant that polluted the coastline.

Some 600 Catholic fishermen led by Father Anthony Dang Huu Nam been flocking to the People's Court in Ky Anh town, northern Ha Tinh province, since Sept. 27 to file their petition suing the steel plant owned by Formosa Plastics that reportedly discharged hundreds of tons of toxic waste into the sea in April.   

Toxic waste, including phenol and cyanide, from the Taiwanese-built steel plant in Ha Tinh province poisoned water along a 200 kilometer stretch of coastline killing hundreds of tonnes of fish. The Formosa unit is based in Ky Anh district.

Since early July, some parishes in the affected Vinh Diocese have been staging peaceful demonstrations and holding vigil prayers on weekends calling for environmental protection.

People wearing white T-shirts with dead fish photos and the word Formosa with a red cross and slogans reading "protect the environment" traveled by bus from their parishes in the neighboring Nghe An province's Quynh Luu district to the court.

They sat in front of the court praying the rosary and singing the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi while some filed petitions with court officials.

Hundreds of other people stood outside of the court to support petitioners even as police were video taping them.

Father Nam, the parish priest in Phu Yen, one of most affected parishes by the disaster told petitioners: "We sue Formosa to compensate for damages it caused us and remove them from Vietnam."

An old woman said that they were seeking justice. "We do not want to be killed like fish," she added.

During his visit to Phu Yen parish on Sept. 21 Bishop Michael Hoang Duc Oanh, retired bishop of Kontum, told parishioners that "to sue Formosa is to show your civil responsibility, patriotism and Christian identity." He also appreciated their actions that aims to "save us, save our nation and save them (Formosa officials)."

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Religious, political and civil society organizations have often criticized the Vietnamese government for being soft on the polluters, not doing enough to pursue justice and allowing Formosa Ha Tinh Steel to continue operating.

People started submitting appeals to the court on Sept. 26. Although police prevented bus owners from driving people to the court, hundreds of fishermen led by Father Nam managed to come to the court.

Local laws require that petitioners file their own appeals separately.

Formosa officials have claimed responsibility for polluting the waters along four central provinces and paid US$500 million in compensation to the Vietnamese government on Aug. 28. The government has not paid the victims yet.

Also, government officials related to the disaster have not been investigated.

On Sept. 22, more than 1,100 fishermen, traders, restaurant owners and others affected by the disaster, petitioned the government and the National Assembly to get US$90 million out of Formosa's compensation as payment to them.

The government has said the disaster directly affected over 100,000 people who lost who lost their jobs and had their incomes reduced but that their were 176,000 people seeking compensation.

State-run media reported that 1,000 students from Ky Ha community did not go to school Sept. 5, when the new school year began. Their parents who had lost their jobs and livelihood because of the disaster could not afford their children's tuition fees.

The Ministry of Health Sept. 20 said fish remained contaminated with phenol and warned people not to eat seafood especially those at the seabed within 20 nautical miles from the coast.  

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