Our Burning Planet


Searcher to leave South Africa immediately after court prohibits seismic survey

Searcher to leave South Africa immediately after court prohibits seismic survey
(Photo: Unsplash / Rudney Uezu | Rawpixel)

Australian company Searcher has abandoned its seismic survey along the West Coast after an urgent interdict against its ocean operations that small-scale fishers said negatively affected them.

Australian geodata company Searcher is leaving South African waters and abandoning its seismic survey programme along the country’s West Coast, the company’s executive vice-president Alan Hopping said on Wednesday.  

“The vessel is demobilising and leaving South Africa immediately. We have no other option but to abandon the project and it will not be completed,” Hopping said. 

Searcher’s decision comes a day after Western Cape High Court Judge Daniel Thulare granted an interdict against the survey programme. The application for the urgent interdict was made by 14 small-scale fishing communities and the civic organisation We Are South Africans.  

A lack of consultation — a key part of environmental authorisation and permits — and irreparable harm to marine life and thus the livelihoods and heritage of the fishers, were cited as the key reasons behind the application.  

Losses from the abandonment of the project will run into millions of dollars, said Hopping. 

Thulare said in his ruling, “Searcher took a calculated risk for its operational costs, loss of profit and possible contractual breaches if any.”

Hopping said: “After two years of planning, a full year of environmental studies by local South African experts and obtaining all required permits as directed by the government agencies, this is, of course, very disappointing for us.  

“This [interdict] is also a great shame for South Africa given the billion-dollar bonanza happening just across the border in Namibia.”  

Last month, Shell made light oil discoveries in the Orange Basin, off the coast of Namibia. According to Reuters, the country aims to fast-track oil developments in the hope of going into production by 2026.  

Hopping said Searcher was unable to begin any new seismic survey projects as South Africa is “uninvestable” for the company. Searcher had been conducting its seismic surveying in international waters after an interim interdict was granted while the case for the urgent interdict was being heard.  

“Given the situation, we do plan to discuss options with the government and stakeholders to try and achieve the business certainty we need; however, this is likely to be a long and uncertain road given the very strong anti-oil investment sentiment that some groups in South Africa are aggressively promoting,” the Searcher vice-president said.  

Respondents in the case, which included the minister of forestry, fisheries and the environment, the minister of mineral resources and energy, and the Petroleum Agency South Africa, filed notices to abide by the decision of the court while they carried out internal appeals. DM/OBP


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