Marine Phosphate Mining – the confusion deepens…..

Who exactly is the competent authority to issue an environmental clearance for mining activities in the seabed off the Namibian coast? This is just one question on a long list that has once again cropped up after the Environmental Commissioner recently issued an Environmental Clearance for Namibia Marine Phosphate (NMP).

“There are so many questions and so few answers. Marine phosphate mining remains a grey area and we simply do not know enough to say with utter certainty if it will indeed have an impact or not and what exactly this impact will be.” This was said by a marine scientist yesterday in an interview with namib times. The scientist, who wishes to remain anonymous, responded to queries after NMP got the green light to start mining activities.
One main point of uncertainty is the question whether the original 18-months long moratorium to prohibit such activities, which expired in March 2015, is still in place or not. “Yes, of course it is. We never heard that it was lifted,” said Matti Amukwa, Chairperson of the Confederation of Namibian Fishing Associations, to namib times. The scientist had a different view though: “As far as I know the moratorium was never extended by cabinet. Therefore, there is no legal baseline to prohibit phosphate mining.” The expert further said that the issuing of the clearance has once again raised the question, who exactly is the competent authority to make this decision and have jurisdiction over such an activity on the ocean floor.
The issuing of the environmental clearance certificate was sent to NMP in the beginning of September, but only recently became public knowledge. In the clearance the Environmental Commissioner (EC) Teofilus Nghitila states that the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Environmental Management Plan (EMP) submitted are “sufficient”. He grants the clearance for a period of three years and attached various conditions to it. Amongst others he orders constant monitoring of the possible effects and he indemnifies the Ministry for any adverse effects that may arise from the mining activities.
After the news became public the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR) immediately took a stance and said it was “shocked”. In a statement the MFMR said it will conduct a high-level meeting to discuss the way forward. The Public Relations Officer of the Ministry could not be reached yesterday for comment.
“We are still shocked, but moreover I think the entire country is shocked,” said Amukwa. The Confederation has in the meantime instructed prominent lawyer Sisa Namandje to assist in the matter. “Our lawyer has sent a letter to Nghitila requesting detailed information on which documents the issuing of the EC was based,” Amukwa continued. Till yesterday afternoon he had no answer. “Once we have the documentation we will decide on the next course of action.”
In a press statement the Minister of Environment and Tourism, Pohamba Shifeta, defended the decision by the EC, but at the same time said that the “operation shall be closed and the Environmental Clearance Certificate shall be withdrawn, if significant negative environmental impacts have been observed to be associated with the proposed phosphate mining.”
“That may very well be the case. Our concern remains though, who exactly will do the monitoring?” asked the scientist. “We cannot even properly monitor certain land-based activities in our country. What about the entire ocean? We simply do not have enough experienced people.” The scientist also questioned one condition of the EC, which states that a centre of excellence is to be established, where possible impacts are regularly monitored. “That is all well and good to build such a centre, but who will man it? It needs people with years of experience which we do not have in this country,” the scientist continued.
In the meantime “Earth Organisation Namibia” has initiated an online petition with the heading “Namibia: Say No to Marine Phosphate Mining.” Yesterday afternoon more than 800 signatures were recorded thus far.
Since the Environmental Clearance was granted, can mining activities begin soon? Even after the many years of meetings, debates and countless studies, this question remains in the air. So far NMP has no land-based infrastructure in place to process the mined product.
NMP, as well as other similar companies like Lev Leviev Marine Phosphate and Chatham Rock Phosphate, intend to mine phosphate from the seabed to use in fertilisers. About the top three metres of some ocean floors is rich in the material, which is to be mined using a dredger and thereafter processed at a land-based facility.

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