For three months crude oil spills have sullied beaches, mangroves and aquaculture farms along Vietnam`s long coastline, but the government says the source of the pollution remains a mystery.
While soldiers and volunteers have scraped over 1,600 tons of congealed oil and sand off Vietnam`s shores since late January, officials remain at a loss to explain whether the oil was dumped by a tanker or leaked from a platform.
Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has said that Hanoi has asked for help from its South China Sea neighbours in finding the source of the slicks, while ruling out the country`s own offshore wells as the origin.
The head of the National Search and Rescue Committee, Nguyen Son Ha, has said that a possible culprit was a leaking Chinese oil rig south of Hainan island that was damaged in a typhoon last year.
As the world marked Earth Day on Sunday, the mystery continued while the oil kept coming, threatening marine life and impacting coastal communities that rely on tourism, fishing, and shrimp and clam farms.
This week, Vietnam`s seaside resort of Nha Trang was hit by another mystery slick, scaring tourists off its usually white beaches and hitting lobster breeders in neighbouring Ninh Thuan province.
The government has released no estimates of the economic damage to the marine sector of a country that has a 3,200-kilometre (2,000-mile) coastline, amid numerous reports of badly-hit oceanside industries.
In the Mekong Delta province of Ben Tre, clam farmers have suffered an "immediate consequence of this disaster," said Keith Symington, regional marine programme coordinator of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).
The farms, which were working toward being eco-certified under a model programme with the communist government and the WWF, "are now devastated, economically and environmentally, by oil contamination," he said.
The oil slicks first blackened Vietnam`s central coast in late January, hitting the famed "China Beach" — a former American military rest and recreation spot during the Vietnam war — and the seashore around the historic port of Hoi An, a UNESCO World Heritage site.