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Cablegate: Vietnam Starts to Organize Oil Pollution Policy

VZCZCXRO6922
RR RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHLN RUEHMA RUEHNH RUEHPB RUEHPOD
DE RUEHHI #1570/01 2470813
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 040813Z SEP 07
FM AMEMBASSY HANOI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6251
INFO RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH 3630
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHZN/ENVIRONMENT SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY COLLECTIVE
RHMFIUU/DEPT OF ENERGY WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC//USDP/ISA/AP/ES//
RHMFIUU/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI//J00/J005/J006/J01LA/J06/J5//

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HANOI 001570

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, OES/PCI
STATE PASS TO NOAA/NOS/OIA (JONATHAN JUSTI)

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SENV ENRG EPET VM
SUBJECT: Vietnam Starts to Organize Oil Pollution Policy

REF: (A) HO CHI MINH CITY 384 (B) 4/26/07 Whittington-Waller e-mail

HANOI 00001570 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) Summary. Government of Vietnam (GVN) environmental
officials say that the GVN has begun to better coordinate its
response to oil pollution that plagued the nation's coastlines in
the first half of 2007. The Ministry of Natural Resources and the
Environment (MONRE) now chairs an inter-agency oil pollution working
group tasked with analyzing prior pollution incidents, responding to
future spills, and seeking foreign assistance. Previous GVN efforts
in this area were unfocused and led to scattershot requests for
assistance from many GVN agencies. Though the GVN believes the
spilled oil originated in Southeast Asia or China, it has been
unable to precisely determine the source of the pollution. End
Summary.

MONRE IN CHARGE
---------------

2. (SBU) On August 28, MONRE Director General Tran Thi Minh Ha told
ESTHOff that in April the GVN created an inter-agency pollution
working group to respond to a series of marine oil pollution
incidents. The Director General of the Agency of Environmental
Protection (VEPA) heads the group, which meets monthly, and also
includes director general-level representation from the Ministries
of Foreign Affairs, Justice, Agriculture and Rural Development,
Defense, Transportation, along with the Office of Government and the
National Committee for Search and Rescue (VINARSACOM). Previously,
VINARSACOM had led the Vietnamese efforts in this area and the GVN's
decision to task MONRE was part of a broader GVN decision to
increase MONRE responsibilities for maritime issues.

POLLUTION HISTORY
-----------------

3. (SBU) From January through June, Vietnam suffered four separate
waves of marine oil pollution incidents with each wave impacting a
different geographical region, from Haiphong in the north to Ca Mau
in the far south. Each wave consisted of thick and wide sheens of
crude oil washing up along the shore and impacted tourist beaches, a
sea turtle sanctuary and commercial fisheries (ref A). The GVN
estimated that the pollution incidents resulted in nearly 2,000 tons
of oil and contaminated sand. GVN officials noted that they had
heard anecdotally that other Southeast Asian nations also had
encountered similar marine oil pollution, but had no firm details.

WHERE DID IT COME FROM?
-----------------------

4. (SBU) According to GVN analyses, the slicks consisted primarily
of crude oil, with very small amounts of commercial oil, possibly
from passing ships. The unique characteristics of the oil, including
low paraffin and sulfur content, indicated that it originated in
Southeast Asia or China. However, Ha stated that the GVN lacked
access to international databases in order to match its samples to
suspected sources. (Note: Per ref B, industry contacts earlier
commented that state-owned PetroVietnam, a well-connected oil-tanker
cleaning service, or tankers emptying their bilges while traversing
Vietnamese waters could be the source(s) of at least some of the
discharges and that the GVN had the capacity to determine the origin
of the oil slicks.)

PREVIOUS REQUESTS FOR ASSISTANCE
--------------------------------

5. (SBU) Beginning in March, several GVN agencies began to request
USG assistance, culminating in an August diplomatic note from the
Vietnamese Embassy in Washington to the State Department requesting
"full cooperation ... in research activities, information sharing,
and assistance in dealing with environmental problems." Earlier the
Ministry of Defense had approached the U.S. Department of Defense
(DOD) for assistance but had not responded to repeated DOD attempts
to provide detection and response support. Other GVN agencies had
also made appeals to the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA) for technical assistance similar to the
USAID-funded oil spill contingency planning activity conducted
2002-2005 in partnership with Vung Tau Province and PetroVietnam.

WHAT VIETNAM WANTS
------------------

6. (SBU) Ha asserted that she would be the GVN point of contact for
all marine pollution assistance requests. The GVN would like to
better prepare for future incidents and create a legal and

HANOI 00001570 002.2 OF 002


regulatory regime to better control and deter oil pollution. Ha
clarified that the August diplomatic note sought assistance targeted
to marine oil pollution and not broader environmental issues (though
the GVN hoped that oil pollution assistance would lead to greater
cooperation on maritime environmental issues generally). Specific
requests, which Ha agreed to detail in one document approved by the
oil spill working group, included greater access to real-time
continuous remote imagery, assistance in matching oil pollution
samples to samples in international databases, and response
training. Ha stated that Vietnam would share its oil samples and
analyses if the U.S. agreed to provide technical assistance.
Additionally, Vietnam lacks the capacity to determine the
environmental and economic costs of marine oil pollution, which it
would use to seek restitution from the source(s) of the discharges.


COMMENT: GVN SEEKING FOCUS
--------------------------

7. (SBU) While the recent formation of the inter-agency oil
pollution working group indicates a desire to better coordinate
efforts in this area, we are not as certain of the GVN resolve to
find the source of the oil pollution -- particularly given the
possibility of PetroVietnam's culpability. Additionally, despite
Ha's claims, it remains unclear whether she actually will function
as the one POC for the USG on this issue. We do believe that the GVN
wants to improve its ability to respond to oil pollution and
strengthen the related regulatory regime. The severe, mysterious
marine oil pollution incidents have caused tremendous environmental
and economic damage, particularly in the fisheries and tourism
sectors. If the GVN can better focus its requests for assistance,
we recommend that U.S. agencies provide available resources and
expertise.

MICHALAK

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