Protest against Sandpiper not “emotional sensationalism”
The developers of the Sandpiper project off the Namibian coast maintain that the recovery of phosphate sediments will have minimal impact on the quality of the seawater. However, environmental groups say the findings on which this view is based are questionable and inconclusive. According to the environmental lobby group, Swakopmund Matters, the present studies in the projects submitted environmental impact assessment studies are “severely lacking” in information. “This resulted in questionable, inconclusive and unacceptable assessments. None of these give any confidence whatsoever to Namibian marine authorities. Internationally, marine biologists of note have raised red flags about these assessments as well. Scientific research and expert conclusions by local and internationally acclaimed authorities are on record for their opposition to marine phosphate mining in all its aspects because of the inevitable and irreversible consequences of such an industry. They have done so with substantive arguments, supportive facts and scientific evidence – not emotional sensationalism,” the group told the Economist this week.
Swakopmund Matters says that currently, too much ignorance about phosphate mining exists in Namibia and that it is important for government ministries to obtain information that will enable them to take an informed decision.
“Namibia will have to provide the testing ocean for this type of mining – a guinea pig for a world first and be a world leader for the wrong reason. This is not a matter to be solely the concern of Swakopmund and Walvis Bay and their inhabitants.
“It must concern every Namibian. However, smooth talk by the proponents of the project companies blur the vision of ordinary Namibians and then fail to recognise what is really at stake and who will eventually have to pay the price,” the group further said.
The Sandpiper project is based on a marine phosphate deposit situated about 60km offshore and 150km south of Walvis Bay in water depths of 180 to 300m. Minemakers owns 42.5% shares in the Sandpiper project, while Union Resources Limited own 42.5%. Local partner, Tungeni Investments owns 15.0%. The joint venture agreement was signed in 2008 to jointly develop the companies’ respective and adjacent Meob and Sandpiper marine phosphate projects. Once operational, the project could produce 3 million tonnes of marketable rock phosphate concentrate per annum. The joint venture company, Namibian Marine Phosphate (NMP) will develop the project.
“No significant environmental issues pertaining to the marine component of the Sandpiper project have been identified to preclude the dredging of phosphate-enriched sediments from the mining licence area No.170 in the environment impact assessment (EIA) report submitted to the Ministry of Environment and Tourism recently,” Chris Jordinson, managing director of UCL Resources, told the Economist in an earlier interview.
David Wellbeloved, the general manager of the Sandpiper Project, assured the public that the developers will comply with all Namibian environmental regulations and best practices.
Wellbeloved added that the developers will implement a monitoring programme that will ensure that the project’s impact is monitored and measured.
“We believe that both the fishing industry and the mining industry can co-exist. We believe we can develop the mine without any impact on the fisheries sector. We won’t have a measurable impact on the environment,” Wellbeloved told the Economist.
He said the company has contracted internationally renowned experts such as Dr Robin Carter.
NMP plans to dredge phosphate enriched marine sediments from the seabed at depths of between 200 and 275 metres off Namibia’s continental shelf, which would entail the removal of the sediment into the dredger along with some onsite discharge of water containing fine sediment from the dredger overflow.
According to the experts, the levels of oxygen and hydrogen sulphide would not be significantly affected by the dredging activity. Dr Carter found that although seawater quality could potentially be affected by dredger overspill sediments released back to the water column as a sediment plume, these impacts are in general identified as moderate to low and will be localised to the actual site and up to a distance of 1.8km from the dredge area.
“We also want to do this in an environmentally friendly way. We also want our children to play in the ocean and we want to conserve the ocean for generations to come, so we will not do something to jeopardise that,” Wellbeloved emphasised.
However, Swakopmund Matters insists that the fishing and mining industry cannot both be accommodated.
“Namibians must insist that their leaders decide one way or the other: either a sustainable fishing industry giving work to thousands and contributing considerably to the country’s GDP, or one or two highly destructive marine exploration projects employing a few hundred workers at most and contributing a pittance to the GDP. The 85% shareholding in the Namibian company being foreign, will repatriate funds back to Australia. The ocean can’t accommodate both,” the group said.
During the first phase of the project, the Sandpiper project will employ 160 people in permanent positions and will employ a further 400 to 500 additional people during the construction phase.
Capital expenditure of the project will amount to an estimated N$2 445 million. The developers are looking to mine as from the third quarter of 2014, if environmental clearance is received by then.
The Ministry of Mines and Energy awarded the joint venture partners with a mining licence for a period of 20 years.