06 Jun 2013 09:50
By Carike Freygang
WALVIS BAY, 06 JUN (NAMPA) - The Namibian fishing sector has indicated that they want an independent specialist appointed to verify the outcome of the Namibian Marine Phosphate (NMP) company?s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
NMP?s planned Sandpiper Marine Phosphate project is based on a marine phosphate deposit, situated about 60 kilometres offshore and 150 kilometres south of Walvis Bay in water depths of 180 to 300 metres.
At a media conference held here on Wednesday, the chairman of the Confederation of Namibian Fishing Associations, Matti Amukwa responded to a recent statement made by NMP Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Barnabas Uugwanga regarding the company?s plans.
Amukwa said Uugwanga indicated in his statement that NMP submitted a ?sound and comprehensive? marine EIA, and is currently waiting for the Ministry of Environment and Tourism to issue environmental clearance for the project to advance to its full development phase.
?As the fishing industry, we are concerned by statements such as these because we believe NMP is feeding the public misleading information. Their EIA was based on desk research, with no on-site scientific research to back it,? he charged.
Amukwa said the fishing industry wants ?independent, robust research? to be undertaken, which would clearly define an onsite environmental baseline at the mining site that will give a clear assessment of the potential environmental impacts of marine phosphate mining.
?This independent study must first occur before any decision is made on whether or not to go ahead with marine phosphate mining in Namibia's waters,? he indicated.
Amukwa further stated that Uugwanga said NMP is proposing a N.dollars 14 million environmental verification programme which they will pay for, and is also committed to going to sea to execute the verification programme in line with the requirements of the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources.
?This, they say, is to make sure the fishing industry?s fears and worries are put to rest, as well as to make sure we see that there is transparency. Our worry is that this is tactically clever from their side because it keeps them in control, as they are putting the money forward.
If NMP employs the scientists to complete the verification study, there is a high risk they will employ the right people in their eyes to get them the answers they want that fit in with the EIA they have written,? Amukwa reasoned.
He said for genuine transparency to occur, the research must be done independently as NMP cannot be ?both referee and player at the same time?.
Amukwa said the fishing industry also wants to know from NMP whether the Terms of Reference of the environmental verification programme have been made public; whether the terms have been agreed to by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism; and whether the Fisheries Ministry has agreed to these terms of reference.
?Ultimately, NMP should not be allowed to undertake what Government must do. If they fund anything, they will have everyone in their pockets.
NMP should be kept at a distance, and be told what is happening, just like us?, he stated.
A concerned Amukwa noted that NMP?s research to date has not been based on obtaining necessary environmental facts to assess the impact of marine phosphate mining on marine life in the area.
Independent reviews of the EIA by environmental specialists have apparently shown that the fishing industry is not the only ones with concerns.
The Namibian fishing industry directly employs over 13 000 people; while NMP indicated that by year three of their mining operations, they will directly employ 150 people.
?We must remember that fishing is a renewable resource, while phosphate is not. And if it is mined, it will be gone,? he continued.
Fisheries? Minister Bernhard Esau also commented on the matter during a meeting between the Midwater Trawlers? Association and his ministry here on Wednesday, stating that politics ?are being played around? by NMP because what they are trying to do is make sure that they can start with their operations.
However, the minister stated that NMP cannot start with their operations unless they are cleared to do so by the Environment Ministry.
Esau also said NMP was granted a licence, but subject to clearance of the EIA studies, and now they are ?trying to confuse the public by sending out wrong information?.
?I had a meeting with the Environment Commissioner; the Minister of Environment and Tourism; and the Minister of Mines and Energy, and received a response from the Environment Ministry, which indicated that their status will stand as is - no operation to start. Clearance was not granted, so they cannot start with operations,? he stressed.
In April 2012, Environment Commissioner Teofilus Nghitila told Nampa that no environmental clearance had yet been issued for the project after a local environmental group, Swakopmund Matters, claimed that the final EIA report for the marine component of that project had been presented to him before important role-players and stakeholders had been given any opportunity to comment on it.
The Environmental Commissioner said the EIA report had thus been referred back to NMP due to the inadequate consultations with all interested and affected parties as required by the Environmental Management Act No 7 of 2007, Section 33 (2) (a).