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Fishers and civic organisations take legal action against West Coast seismic surveying

Fishers and civic organisations take legal action against West Coast seismic surveying
Illustrative image | Sources: Unsplash / Gabriel Dizzi | Vecteezy

Last month, Shell was ordered to halt its seismic survey programme on the Wild Coast. Now, another case involving an Australian exploration company is due to be heard in court as communities along the coast fight for their livelihoods.

The Shell case was said to set a precedent for future exploration and extractivism cases. It seems, however, that the inevitable has come sooner than expected as a group representing various civic organisations has filed an urgent interdict against Australian geoscience company Searcher Geodata, which has been conducting a seismic survey programme along South Africa’s West Coast. 

The applicants had written to Searcher Geodata, pleading with the company to put an end to its project currently under way. But the lack of response from the company has prompted the organisations to take the matter to court, in the hope that the law will put an end to the potential environmental harm posed to the lives of coastal communities by seismic surveying. 

Wilmien Wilcomb, an attorney representing 13 of the 14 applicants, told Daily Maverick, “The communities say that the survey will not only cause irreparable harm to the ocean and birdlife on the West Coast, but stand to further erode their rights to fish for their livelihoods and as an expression of their identity.”

Other respondents in the case include Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe; Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Minister Barbara Creecy; Petroleum Agency South Africa; and BGP Pioneer, the Panama-registered seismic research ship. 

Gilbert Martin, founder of We are South Africans (the 14th applicant), told Daily Maverick that they are hoping that an interdict will stop not only Searcher Geodata’s seismic survey, but also all other mining or seismic activities through a public oversight committee to oversee improperly conducted processes. 

He said they were filing the interdict based on the fact that the research to formulate the environmental management programme (EMPr) was outdated, that there was no meaningful public participation, and that the survey will damage the environment, tourism and fishing industries. 

Daily Maverick previously reported that the Coastal Justice Network has raised the fact that small-scale fishing communities along the West Coast had not been consulted during assessments to grant Searcher Geodata permits to conduct the surveys. 

Christian Adams, the first applicant, said in his affidavit that he wanted Mantashe and Creecy to comprehend what is happening to the fishing community and what the issuing of permits has done to the industry, without its input.

Searcher Geodata told Daily Maverick in an email that the company had completed a comprehensive Environmental Management Plan, fulfilling the requirements of a Basic Assessment Report as per the Environmental Impact Assessment regulations. The company said that the assessment had been developed with broad consultation from local communities in order to protect the environment. 

“Community awareness and consultation have been exhaustive and in full compliance with Pasa [Petroleum Agency SA] requirements,” the company said. “Searcher wishes to note that we have a history of effectively conducting marine seismic surveys internationally with successful environmental outcomes. This is achieved by rigorous environmental risk assessment combined with robust operating principles, planning and management.” 

Pasa granted Searcher Geodata its permit in early November 2021. The permit grants Searcher a reconnaissance permit for petroleum, which allows it to conduct the seismic surveys across various blocks offshore, the Orange Basin off the West Coast, and in the south coast of the Western and Northern Cape provinces of the country. 

The permit granted to Searcher by the DMRE showed that it has been effective since 6 December 2021 on the basis of environmental approvals that assess the potential impacts on marine fauna and flora.

This, according to the permit, included some of the ways in which the company can identify measures to mitigate potential impacts, including a 30-day public review and comment period. 

“Where will we end up? Are we going to be murals for people to look at and to say there was once a thriving small-scale fishing sector, but due to the OEMP, due to the Marine Spatial Planning Bill, due to Operation Phakisa, it no longer exists?” Adams said. 

Wicomb will be representing the 13 parties, while Richard Spoor Attorneys will represent We are South Africans when the case is heard in the Western Cape High Court. DM/OBP


Absa OBP

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Ant Hay-Buchanan says:

    Oh wow ! Who is complaining that Shell will ruin the environment ? The fishing companies & the local fishermen. Who has already ruined the environment ? The fishing companies & the local fishermen !!
    Maverick journalists – do some investigation. But go back more than 5 years.
    The West Coast once had a thiving crayfish fishing industry, harvesting 35000 tons of fish every year for 50 years (?). Where is it now? 350 tons/yr. Dead. Why ? The fishing industry destroyed it by overfishing.
    I was a scientific observer on crayfish boats. I measured & sexed every fish that came out of the traps, put the size fish on a chute that led to the holds for sale, & put undersize in another chute that returned them to the sea to grow big. When I investigated where the undersize actually went, I found they were diverted into an area where they were collected as “fry” for the crew, & would never grow big.
    The Gravid females in “berry” with eggs were also supposed to be returned to the sea to provide the next generations of South African Rock Lobster. What did I discover ? On every vessel there is a machine on deck – a compressor with a stainless steel pipe connected to it. On the other end of the pipe was a vacuum pump. When you point this pipe at the eggs it sucks them off the mothers’ tails, & they are no longer in berry, so they are kept & sold. – So much for the next generation. No names, no packdrill, but the owners of these boats all had Portuguese names, & retired to Madiera.

  • Ant Hay-Buchanan says:

    These people are concerned with the environment – suck my dangling chillibite.
    Give us the graphs illustrating the decline in catch over 50 years.
    Under the new dispensation, we tried to help the locals take ownership of local resources. They were allowed to catch 5 crayfish per day. What did they do ? Catch 5, bring them ashore, return for another 5, As long as the light & weather allowed. Responsible owneership ??
    Commecial fishermen are greedy – they will kill anything they can sell’
    Investigate the history of the pilchard/ anchovy industry, then cry about the fate of fishermen.

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