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Sun starts to shine over pollution-hit provinces in central Vietnam

Vietnam’s central coast suffered a miserable 2016 due to a toxic spill that sent tourists running scared, but it seems that for now the sun has returned to the worst-hit provinces.

Tourists abandoned Quang Tri, Thua Thien-Hue, Quang Binh and Ha Tinh following the environmental catastrophe caused by a unit of Taiwanese conglomerate Formosa Plastics in April last year.

Official data from the provincial tourism departments showed sharp decreases in tourism revenue and visitor numbers last year.

Ha Tinh’s tourism revenue fell 31.6 percent to VND238 billion ($10.5 million) in the first nine months of 2016.

In the first half of 2016, Quang Tri scraped in VND683 billion, a drop of 24.3 percent, while Quang Binh’s visitor numbers fell 20 percent to 1.3 million.

But the situation has made a U-turn since early this year, clearly reflected by the big crowds at Nhat Le Beach in Quang Binh and Thien Cam Beach in Ha Tinh.

Minh Thuy from Hanoi told VnExpress that she had been planning a family holiday to Nhat Le Beach, but all the hotels were fully booked so she had to find somewhere else to go.

Thuy’s story backs up official tourism data.

Nguyen Van Tuan, head of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, told local media on Tuesday that pollution-hit provinces on the central coast are welcoming even more tourists than before the incident, considered the country’s worst-ever environmental disaster.

In the first half of this year, Quang Binh said it received 1.5 million visitors, up 17 percent against the same period last year. Quang Binh was one of the filming locations for Hollywood blockbuster “Kong: Skull Islands”, and tourism authorities have been trying to ride on the film’s success.

The number of tourists visiting Thien Cam Beach in Ha Tinh rose 3.5 times to 130,000 during the same period, while 950,000 tourists arrived in Quang Tri, up 14 percent.

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc on Monday instructed the health ministry to test the quality of seafood from the seabed along the central coast and report back within 15 days.

Based on surveys conducted from June last year to March this year, the ministry advises that seafood from the surface is now safe for human heath, but harmful substances remain on the seabed, especially in Ha Tinh.

In early April last year, a large number of fish washed up dead near the Vung Ang Economic Zone in Ha Tinh Province. The disaster stretched 200 kilometers (124 miles) along the central coast, as far south as Thua Thien-Hue, resulting in the death of more than 70 tons of sea fish and 35 tons of farm-raised fish.

Thousands of fishermen in Ha Tinh, Quang Tri, Quang Binh and Thua Thien-Hue lost customers or were forced to sell at a loss.

The environment ministry said it could take the region a decade to completely recover from the incident, while experts predict the disaster may set back Vietnam’s economy for years.

Formosa agreed last June to pay $500 million in compensation, but many people in Ha Tinh are unhappy about how compensation payments have been handled.

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