Phosphate mining report expected this month

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By Albertina Nakale

WINDHOEK – The much-awaited Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report on planned marine phosphate mining off the country’s coast is expected to be released later this month.

In 2013, the government placed a moratorium on planned marine phosphate mining in the country’s coastal waters until an environmental impact study had determined whether or not mining would destroy marine life and the fishing industry.

In an interview yesterday, the Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Bernard Esau, confirmed the much-awaited EIA would be available this month.

No country in the world presently conducts marine phosphate mining.

He said the preliminary scoping report was already submitted to the technical committee early in January.

He revealed the technical committee is chaired by the director of resources management in the fisheries ministry, Graca D’Almeida, together with officials from Mines and Energy, Tourism and Environment as well as Works and Transport.

“They are working very closely with experts from a scientific research group called Sintef from Norway. I know the technical committee is scheduled to meet end of this week to discuss the report of the scientists. Only then will they report to the ministerial committee chaired by myself and then we can take a decision going forward. I must also take the report to Cabinet for further discussion and endorsement,” Esau explained.

When asked who is funding the EIA, Esau said: “A lot of international bodies have indicated a willingness to come onboard to assist in carrying out the EIA. This will be the first EIA of its kind in the world, hence this interest by various international scientific bodies,” said the fisheries minister.

In a statement issued yesterday, a New Zealand company Chatham Rock Phosphate (CRP) pledged to share its experience on environmental consenting regimes to assist Namibia in designing an environmental assessment process for its seabed phosphate resources.
“We were told by Namibian government officials that New Zealand is viewed as developing international best practice standards for marine mining and so we are keen to support efforts for that to be achieved as widely as possible,” stated CRP managing director, Chris Castle.
CRP was awarded a mining permit over the key resource area on the Chatham Rise in December 2013 and submitted its weighty EIA in May last year as a prelude to the marine consent process.

Further, the other aspect Esau shared is that experts want to link the exercise with the University of Namibia (Unam) in that students pursuing marine science would largely benefit from the study.

“It is a very interesting study. I know people just want to explore but we have to take precautionary measures not to harm any existing marine industries,” he cautioned.

Prior to Cabinet’s moratorium in 2013, there was growing tension between the fishing industry and environmentalists on one side and mining companies that claimed they would invest a lot of money to create jobs and exports, on the other.

The fishing industry, which is a big foreign currency earner for Namibia, has strongly opposed the idea of phosphate mining on fishing grounds.

Namibian Marine Phosphate and LL Namibia Phosphates are the two companies that have been granted mining licences for marine phosphate mining.

Esau said although the companies were granted mining licences by the Ministry of Mines and Energy they do not have environmental clearance licences, meaning that they cannot go ahead with operations.

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