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Dirty business

Son Nguyen
Friday,  Jun 16,2017,23:30 (GMT+7)
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Dirty business

Son Nguyen

The business deals by two shipbuilding companies to build steel boats for fishermen in the central province of Binh Dinh have finally turned out to be dirty tricks. The final products delivered to the fishermen are simply unusable, as the parties involved have infringed key terms in the contracts with the fishermen to maximize their illegal gains, a case that comes under sharp criticism in local media these days.

The drama started months ago when 18 steel vessels supplied to the fishermen in Binh Dinh Province broke down due to multiple reasons. When authorities stepped in earlier this month, they found numerous irregularities, from cheats by the shipbuilder and the engine supplier to the dereliction of duty on the part of the State-owned ship registry.

Under Decree 67/2014/ND-CP issued by the Government, banks are told to extend soft loans to fishermen to build steel vessels to improve their fishing capacity and ensure their safety during their long seafaring trips. To date, as many as 297 such vessels have been built and delivered to fishermen. Of this number, 18 boats for fishermen in Binh Dinh and one for a beneficiary in Phu Yen Province are out of order.

Phan Trong Ho, director of Binh Dinh Province’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, says in Thanh Nien newspaper that in the province alone, nine enterprises participated in the program to build 47 ships for fishermen. Among such shipbuilders, Nam Trieu Shipbuilding Company turned out 20 vessels, but up to 13 do not work, while Dai Nguyen Duong built five vessels, with all of them problematic.

The hulks of the vessels are made from low-quality Chinese-made steel, instead of Korean steel as contracted.

Meanwhile, most of the Mitsubishi-branded engines supplied by another company, Hoang Gia Phat, for these vessels broke down while the ships were at sea, putting fishermen’s lives at risk.

Worse still, when Mitsubishi sent its experts to check the engines, eight out of nine engines were remodeled and they were not designed for vessels, Phap Luat newspaper reports. Mitsubishi also denied Hoang Gia Phat as its authorized distributor as initially introduced to relevant parties in this shipbuilding program.

Upon this finding, Hoang Gia Phat admitted to wrongdoing, and pledged to refit the right engines for all the affected vessels. 

The drama took a dramatic twist when Nam Trieu managed to keep its irregularities under the tight lid by allegedly bribing the affected fishermen, all to no avail. According to Tien Phong, senior leaders of Nam Trieu approached the affected fishermen, offering cash compensation of up to VND200 million for a substandard vessel provided that the fishermen backed down from their complaints and signed covenants not to leak the information to reporters. Binh Dinh authorities later found out that seven fishermen with seven problematic vessels had withdrawn their complaints due to the agreements.

In an interview with Phap Luat, Dang Ngoc Oanh, CEO of Nam Trieu, denies all irregularities, saying the money was part of an agreement in which fishermen would have to maintain the vessels on their own, instead of sending them to the company’s shipyard for repair. Regarding the substandard engine, he says the supplier is to blame because his company signed a contract to buy brand-new engines. The key problem, says Oanh, rests with the ship registry under the agriculture ministry.

“The ship registry is to blame, because they supervised all steps as regulated by Decree 67. Every step, including painting and engine supply, is controlled by the ship registry and they have signed minutes to affirm that conditions were fulfilled,” Oanh says in Phap Luat.

But the case is too big to hide, and as Binh Dinh Province early this month set up a team to probe the case, irregularities were brought to light.

Tran Chau, vice chairman of Binh Dinh Province, vented his anger at the malpractice, saying in Thanh Nien that “the vessels must be rebuilt with the right steel hulks and replaced with the right engines.” Chau also says he has asked to Ministry of Public Security to quickly launch a thorough investigation into the case.

In an analysis, Tuoi Tre claims enterprises in this case have abused a preferential policy of the Government in building steel vessels for fishermen. They have delivered fishermen vessels that cannot operate properly, thus pushing such poor people into greater difficulty. The illegal acts add heavier burdens to not only fishermen but also the entire economy.

The greed by such enterprises not only causes difficulties for fishermen, but also weakens the country’s resources. Such irregularities must be harshly dealt with, according to the paper.

Similarly, in an editorial, Thanh Nien says the case cannot be deemed as a “regrettable incident” as uttered by a deputy minister, neither should it be referred to as a “valuable lesson” or an “undesirable mistake.”

“The reality we are witnessing is the unethical practice by those enterprises that are ready to appropriate money borrowed from banks by poor fishermen; the reality whereby profiteering enterprises readily ignore the fate and lives of fishermen when at sea,” says the paper

As fishermen with their fishing trips also have the mandate to protect the country’s sovereignty over waters and islands, cheating enterprises have betrayed farmers and the nation as a whole, says the paper. Their pursuit of profit is a form of dirty business.

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