Namibia Marine Phosphate (NMP) has challenged critics of its contentious plans to mine phosphate from the Namibian seabed to present their scientific findings to back up their resistance to the envisaged project.
In a strongly worded five-page media statement sent out late on Sunday evening, NMP charged that “the issue of whether or not Namibia should continue with its established world leader status in marine mining and proceed with the development of the marine phosphate industry should not be allowed to be hijacked by any polarising entities or parties to further vested social, political or commercial interests, at the expense of the national interest”.
According to NMP, the clear consensus of independent expert opinion with knowledge of the Benguela Large Marine Ecosystem is that at the scale of the proposed operations, the project can be safely developed and also well managed within existing Namibian mining and environmental regulations, without an impact on fishing resources and in co-existence with the fishing industry.
Environmental commissioner Teofilus Nghitila has been heavily criticised after he issued an environmental clearance certificate that gives NMP the green light to start mining phosphate.
The matter could end up in court after the fishing industry, under one umbrella, roped in lawyers to challenge Nghitila’s decision.
The sector now fears that NMP might lodge a lawsuit of its own if government reneges on its decision to allow phosphate mining.
NMP reports that since 2008 its shareholders have invested more than N$780 million in the development of the exploration and mining licences issued by government and which now include the controversial Sandpiper phosphate mining project.
NMP says the funds have gone towards exploration, environmental, technical and feasibility studies, administration and local employment.
“The project development amounts to N$5.2 billion investment capital, making it one of the single largest investment projects in the country,” NMP says.
“It will have annual revenues of N$4.2 billion and contribute royalties of N$78 million per annum to the national fiscus. In addition, corporate taxes of N$650 million per annum will be paid.”
The company issued its latest statement in response to recent comments and actions by the Confederation of Namibian Fishing Associations (CNFA), the Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR) and other commentators, recently published in local media.
“When making these claims these parties also purposefully choose to ignore the scale of the proposed phosphate dredging operations and purposefully deflect any discussion on the relevance of the related comparative impacts on the fishing (bottom trawling) industry or marine diamond mining.”
“Not one shred of credible scientific evidence has been provided by any of these parties to support their positions. One has to wonder why that is so.”
The company noted that the portrayal of Nghitila’s decision as “reckless” and the allegation that this decision will result in “scandalous damage to the ecosystem” are wholly unsupported by scientific data.
“There are several crucial considerations that MFMR, CNFA and other prominent commentators have either deliberately or inadvertently chosen to ignore and leave out of the public conversation in regard because they completely undermine their statements and the basis for positions they have taken on the matter.”
Scale of operations
“The fact is that the scale of the proposed phosphate dredging operations will be significantly less than that of the existing fishing and trawling and marine diamond mining activities,” stated NMP. The company specifically noted that the proposed phosphate dredging will affect an area of between 2.5 to 3 square kilometres per year at a fixed location within its mining licence area at the bottom of the ocean.
The NMP statement also addressed claims by the CNFA and its chairperson, Matti Amukwa, that proposed phosphate dredging will cause significant impact to the marine environment and the fishing industry on the basis that the mining sediment plume could drift over the fish breeding grounds and have a suffocating impact.
“This position is both confusing and misleading when considering that CNFA have publicly acknowledged the internationally proven and accepted fact that ‘the fishing industry (in Namibia) does disturb the seabed when trawling’.”
NMP says that a scientific study in Norway on the re-suspended sediment load contained in plumes generated by trawling, concluded that taking into consideration the estimated amount of sediment suspended worldwide due to trawling compared to the amounts spilled from dredging operations, the impacts should be of concern in the management of bottom trawling.
Local businessman Knowledge Katti, through his company Havana Investments, owns 15 percent shares in NMP. Omani billionaire Mohammed Al-Barwani owns the remaining 85 percent of the company.