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- Clemencia Jacobs
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Government’s refusal to grant environmental clearance to the Sandpiper phosphate project off the coast was well received by the environment lobby group, Swakopmund Matters.
The group however says the refusal to grant clearance to the project does not mean Namibians should let their guard down.
“On the contrary, it must embolden all concerned inhabitants of this whole area to be more vocal on issues like the Sandpiper and Gecko projects that do not bode well for the environment. These companies will damage seriously, if not permanently,” the group said in a statement.
The group is of the opinion that the Sandpiper project will have a negative impact on the country’s marine resources and that marine phosphate mining is not allowed any where in the world due to the dangers it has for the environment.
The environmental impact assessment report of the Sandpiper project was referred back to the developers due to inadequate consultations with all stakeholders as required by the Environmental Management Act.
According to reports, environmental commissioner Teofilus Ngthila, confirmed that the project did not receive environmental clearance, last week.
The EIA report has also been sent to the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources for comment, as provided for under the environment act.
The fishing industry has been especially vocal about the envisaged mining project, stating that the project will have a detrimental impact on the industry.
Matti Amukwa, chairman of the Hake Association of Namibia, says an exclusive prospecting license was issued for phosphate mining in the country’s fishing grounds without consultations and a credible environment impact assessment.
“It must be recognised that the fishing industry is a renewable resource, which if carefully managed will bring benefits for many generations to come. Marine phosphates, on the other hand, are a non-renewable resource, and once mined they are gone. If the mining activities from an environment impact perspective are not carefully assessed now, they may cause an irreparable damage to the fishing industry. With marine phosphate mining, as the Namibian case is the first in the world, we are moving into uncharted waters,” Amukwa told the Economist.
The Sandpiper project is based on a marine phosphate deposit situated about 60km offshore and 150km south of Walvis Bay in water depths of 180-300m.
The developers of the project submitted an EIA report to the Ministry of Environment and Tourism earlier this year. According to the developers, no significant environmental issues regarding its marine component have been found.
However, conservationists have cried foul stating that the project pose a threat to the country’s fisheries industry as it could result in a loss of habitat, impairment of food chain functionality, possible release of hydrogen sulphide into the water column, removal of typical spawning and feeding grounds and interference with fish behaviour.
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 Ministry of Mines and Energy awarded the joint venture partners with a mining licence for a period of 20 years.
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