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Vietnamese victims sue FPG for harm caused by steel mill pollution

2019/06/11 18:15:44

Taipei, June 11 (CNA) About 8,000 residents in Vietnam filed a lawsuit in Taipei Tuesday to seek compensation from the Formosa Plastics Group (FPG) conglomerate for harm resulting from pollution caused by the group's steel mill located in Ha Tinh in 2016.

Several civic groups in Taiwan, including the Environmental Rights Foundation (ERF), represented the 7,875 Vietnamese pollution victims to file the lawsuit with the Taiwan Taipei District Court against FPG, which is the majority shareholder of the steel mill Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corp., other shareholders -- China Steel Corp., the largest steel maker in Taiwan, and Japan's JFE Steel Corp. -- as well as board members of the steel mill.

The victims are seeking about NT$140 million (US$4.46 million) in compensation from the polluting steel complex.

In April 2016, FPG's steel complex in Ha Tinh Province of central Vietnam was found to be discharging pollutants that killed fish along a 210-kilometer stretch of coast in the country.

FPG has admitted responsibility for the pollution, which is described as the most serious environmental incident the Southeast Asian country has faced in a decade.

According to one estimate, the pollution has caused more than 40,000 Vietnamese fishermen to lose their jobs or put them on the verge of being pushed out of the job market, while an additional 176,000 people have been indirectly affected.

After an investigation launched by the Vietnamese authorities, the steel mill was required by the Vietnamese government to pay US$500 million in damages for the pollution, payout of which was completed in August 2016.

However, the ERF and other civil groups said in a joint statement that FPG had not negotiated with the pollution victims about the compensation.

These civil groups added that although FPG claimed it had paid the damages, some of the pollution victims only obtained a meager NT$20,000 (US$637) each, and many of the other victims had been unable to work at all due to the pollution, so they decided to sue the enterprises in Taipei.

One of the Vietnamese victim representatives, surnamed Nguyen, in Taipei for the lawsuit said the pollution has made it impossible for him to go fishing any longer, so he had no choice but to sell his fishing boat and equipment.

While he was afraid that he will face pressure from the Vietnamese government for the move to sue FPG and the other shareholders of the steel mill, he still wanted to speak out for the victims.

In response to the lawsuit, Chang Fu-ning (張復寧), president of the steel maker, said the compensation payout has been completed based on instructions from the Vietnamese government, which was responsible for distributing the money.

Chang said that after the pollution accident, the steel mill has improved its waste treatment and discharge system with 24-hour monitoring and that the waste disposal is up to government requirements.

The FPG steel complex was also a target of anti-Chinese protests staged by Vietnamese workers in May 2014 over China's deployment of a US$1 billion oil rig in disputed waters in the South China Sea.

(By Liu Shih-yi, Wei Shu and Frances Huang)
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