State-owned Vietnam Shipbuilding Industry Group, better known as Vinashin, almost went bankrupt last year with debts totalling more than $4 billion in a scandal that sent ripples through Vietnamese politics.
The troubles sparked investor fears that the scandal was symptomatic of wider problems at state-owned firms, a key pillar of Vietnam's economy.
Following a police probe, the group's 58-year-old former chairman, Pham Thanh Binh, and eight other executives were indicted in November.
The defendants "intentionally violated state regulations on economic management", the president of the court Tran Van Nghiem said on the opening day of the trial, which is expected to conclude on Friday.
If convicted the former executives face up to 20 years in prison each.
All nine were taken to a court in the northern port city of Haiphong at dawn under tight police security, according to an AFP reporter on the scene.
They have have been detained since their arrest in August 2010. Vietnam's Ministry of Public Security has filed an international warrant for two other former top executives.
The case piled pressure on Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, who appointed Binh and was considered close to the disgraced executive.
At the height of the scandal in 2010, one lawmaker even called for a rare vote of no confidence in the premier.
Police investigations have focused on the loss of more than $43 million, most of which reportedly disappeared on projects to develop a high-speed passenger boat and a failed electricity plant.
In December 2010, the company defaulted on the first $60 million installment of a $600 million loan arranged by Credit Suisse in 2007, but no further information on the loan settlement since then is available.
The government has said that no political leaders would be punished for the problems at Vinashin and the company is being restructured.