Sunday, November 25, 2007

Storm disrupts Vietnam coffee and oil production

NHA TRANG, Vietnam (Reuters) - A tropical storm dumped rain on several south-central Vietnam provinces, disrupting coffee and oil production and endangering fishermen, officials said on Saturday.

The streets of the coastal resort of Nha Trang were quiet after a night of rain, wind and waves from Tropical Storm Hagibis, downgraded from a typhoon on Friday as it changed direction in the South China Sea after hitting the Philippines.

The government's flood and storm committee said nearly 31,000 people had been moved away from the coast in four provinces.

Vietnam sent a diplomatic note to China about four vessels with 36 fishermen requesting shelter in Chinese territory. Authorities alerted 245,000 fishermen and most sailed out of the danger zone, government reports said.

Officials in the main coffee-growing province of Daklak said light rain had kept farmers from resuming the harvest. The disruption since Thursday at the peak of the harvest threatens to delay deliveries from the world's top robusta producer.

"The rains have been light but enough to keep farmers from their harvest because even when they can pick cherries they are not able to dry them outdoors," Van Thanh Huy, chairman of the Vietnam Coffee and Cocoa Association, told Reuters.

Vietsovpetro, operator of Vietnam's biggest oil field Bach Ho, said the storm was causing a production decline of 10,000 tonnes of crude oil, Saturday's Tien Phong (Vanguard) newspaper reported.

The Vietnam-Russia oil and gas venture has taken 245 Russian and Vietnamese experts and workers from offshore facilities and temporarily shut crude production at Rong (Dragon) oilfield.

Vietnam is Southeast Asia's third-largest crude producer.

Historically, storms rarely strike in late November, the usual start of a six-month dry season.

Vietnam's long coastline is battered every year by up to 10 storms, killing hundreds, even thousands of people. Since August, some central provinces have been hit by a series of storms, raising floodwater to the highest levels in decades.

So far this year, storms and floods have killed 368, injured 515 and left 30 unaccounted for, according to government reports. Total property damage was 7.2 trillion dong ($441 million).