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Court rejects Searcher Geodata’s application to resume West Coast seismic survey

Representatives of indigenous communities chant outside the Western Cape High Court for the end of exploration for oil and gas. (Photo: Onke Ngcuka)

A court application by Searcher Geodata to have the halt on its seismic survey along the West Coast lifted has been denied, as the company faces the consequences of not filing responding affidavits.

An application by geoscience company Searcher Geodata to have the interim interdict on its seismic survey off the West Coast reconsidered was denied on Monday at the Western Cape High Court.  

The matter was brought before Judge Daniel Thulare in a courtroom that was filled to capacity. Searcher Geodata’s counsel, Jeremy Gauntlett SC, QC, told the court that the interim interdict on the survey was costing the company $100,000 per day and could cost up to R400-million in investment if the programme is stopped. 

Searcher’s ship BGP Pioneer is in international waters, Gauntlett confirmed, without stating whether any seismic surveying was being carried out. 

“It is not in the territorial waters of South Africa,” Gauntlett said in response to the judge’s question of what activities the ship was conducting. He stated that the ship was outside South Africa’s marine economic zone — about 370km from the shoreline. 

Last Monday, Judge Thulare ordered that all seismic surveying by Searcher Geodata in SA territorial waters be halted until the urgent interdict was heard. The judge ruled on the basis of irreparable harm to coastal communities. The application for the urgent interdict has been brought forward to 24 February. 

Among Searcher Geodata’s reasons for wanting the halt on its operations to be lifted was the fact that the company failed to file its answering affidavits before the matter was heard, and had asked for an extension of time to do so. 

Gauntlett argued that the lack of responding affidavits meant absence of the respondents and therefore a reconsideration of the ruling that was made in their “absence”.  

seismic survey west coast searcher geodata
A map of proposed and past seismic surveys off the South African coast. (Source: The Conversation)

Searcher Geodata had initially requested two weeks to file its responding affidavits, as opposed to the six calendar days given by the applicants. Advocate Michael Bishop, who represented the applicants, said the delay by Searcher Geodata to file its affidavits was a failure on its part and the company should therefore face the consequences of its actions. 

Bishop said that the given timelines were reasonable. “If you decide not to comply with timelines you do so at your own peril.” 

The applicants, which include 13 small-scale fishing communities along the West Coast and civic organisations, had filed for an urgent interdict against Searcher Geodata’s seismic survey. They cited irreparable harm to their livelihoods and indigenous heritage and stated that a reconnaissance permit had been granted to Searcher Geodata without proper and meaningful consultation and without adherence to the correct environmental regulations.

The other respondents on the case are the minister of mineral resources and energy, the minister of forestry, fisheries and the environment, the Petroleum Agency South Africa, BGP Pioneer, Searcher Geodata UK and its Australian subsidiary. 

The counsel for Searcher Geodata and its subsidiaries further argued that should the court not reconsider the interim interdict, it should then at least allow BGP Pioneer to conduct the surveying 150km from the shoreline where deep-sea trawling is permitted. Neither submission was accepted.  

Gauntlett asked why the effects of seismic surveying were being questioned now, when surveys had been conducted for about 50 years. 

Seismic surveys use shock wave reflections to explore underground properties. Environmentalists have raised the alarm about seismic surveys disturbing and harming marine life. 

Searcher Geodata said: “We believe that the applicants’ concerns are more than adequately addressed in our answering Affidavit and the expert affidavits, all of which confirm that there is no evidence to support the allegation that seismic surveys cause irreparable harm to the environment.” DM/OBP

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  • Thankyou that we have judges with backbone,not like the goverment and all politicians.I am soooo happy,I am sure if whales and dolphins and seals and sea turtles and sharks and all fish and sealife could do a Summerdale to show their happiness they would!!!Hurrah for local small scale fisherman and a way of life protected!!!!!

  • ‘Gauntlett asked why the effects of seismic surveying were being questioned now, when surveys had been conducted for about 50 years.’ Probably because we know more about the dangers and damage caused (thanks to science, civil society and environmentally aware journalists) and the fragile rights of fishing communities and those whose heritages are being threatened than we did 50 years ago. A triumph of awareness over ignorance.

  • Now Min G Mantashe runs to IOL and the article says we are chasing away investment by going to court to have stopped Shell etc.We want job creation, but we chase away investment.Socthey went to Namibia and Cote de Ivoire and found oil.You are talking hogwash, bla bla, bla.Many ways to create jobs other than oil finds in the sea.Stop being such a corrupt goverment.We the responsible capitalist don’t chase after money at the expense of our country and ecological balance.You are communistic money lovers , who love money at the expense of your citizens.Rather spend your energy on eradicating pit toilets at schools.Your mismanagement of this country is astronomical.You speak communistic propaganda, but hunt and chase money ,you the Anc is the contradiction!!!

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