By Cameron Perks
Namibia’s Minister for
Environment and Tourism (MET), Pohamba Shifeta, has rescinded
his support for a recently-awarded "Environmental Clearance
Certificate" which had green-lighted what would have been the
world’s first offshore phosphate mine.
Phosphate Pty Ltd (NMP) had been awarded the certificate by
Environmental Commissioner Teofilus Nghitila in
But government support
for the project has now been withdrawn on the back of concerns
relating to the local fishing industry and the environment. The
legality of the certificate has also been called into question,
leaving the future of the project unknown.
Fisheries and Marine
Resources Minister Bernhard Esau put pressure on the
environment minister to alter his original stance, arguing that
the issuance of the certificate was "premature" and disputing
the scientific findings NMP had put forth in determining that
the project will have minimal environmental impacts.
Esau has insisted that
the matter falls under his remit, as laid out in the country's
Marine Resources Act.
He argued that "the
Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR) is the
competent authority on marine ecosystems and marine resources.
Marine resources are defined in the Marine Resources Act (2000)
as all marine organisms (…) marine phosphates are
derived from fish bones, hence they fit in this description and
are therefore under the mandate of the ministry."
NMP has hit back at
this, stating that "the marine phosphate deposits on the middle
shelf off Namibia are not 'derived from fish
bones’ and do not comprise anything that
constitutes a living marine organisms [sic] or
anything naturally derived from or produced by such organisms
(such a guano) as defined in the Marine Resources Act
"The claim by MFMR for
jurisdiction over the marine phosphate deposits is therefore
devoid of any substance and exposes a thinly veiled attempt by
MFMR to usurp the authority of the Ministry of Mines and Energy
in regard to management of mineral resources in Namibia," NMP
The company also
criticised Esau for intervening at such a late stage in the
process, four years after submission of the project EIA and
five years after the award of its mining license.
NMP has also defended
its scientific findings, stating that "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
In addition to the
various actions taken by the government and relevant ministries
to block the offshore mining operation, Namibia’s
fishing sector has also taken both NMP and the government to
court in order get the certificate nullified.
Local press outlets
have named the Confederation of Namibian Fishing Associations,
the Namibia Hake Association, Midwater Trawling Association of
Namibia and Omualu Fishing as applicants in the suit, which
argues Environmental Commissioner Nghitila has no legal grounds
to issue the EIA clearance certificate.
A trip by
Namibia’s President, Hage Geingob, to the Middle
East in 2013 has been drawn into the equation, with sugestions
that he sought investors for the venture, which is 85% owned by
the Omani company Mawarid Mining LLC.
The allegations have
prompted Geingob to hit back, stating: "I challenge you
publicly to say who I went to and asked for a cent.
I’m not for sale. I’ve never asked
anybody for a single cent in all my life. You make it sound
like I can be bought. I’m not that
In a media release
addressing the various issues surrounding their deposit, NMP
said it is "deeply concerned at the course of actions and
allegations that the Confederation of Namibian Fishing
Associations, Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources and
other third party objectors […] have elected to
The company claimed
that the public outcry coupled with the court case, have
"directly or indirectly resulted in the Minister Ministry
[sic] of Environment and Tourism making the decision
to reconsider his support for the Environmental
project, known as Sandpiper, has a defined mineral resource
inventory of 1.8bn dry tonnes at 19.05%
P2O5 (phosphorus pentoxide), using a 15%
cut off grade.
Most of the
world’s phosphate is used as fertiliser and in
animal feed. In a 2012 media release, NMP argued that an
important strategy for Namibia in securing its own
domestic food supply, would be to make phosphate
fertiliser more accessible to farmers.
Chatham Rock Phosphate had hoped that the original green light
for mining in Namibia would set a precedent worldwide for
offshore phosphate mining.
The company, which also
holds offshore permit applications in Namibia, has been focused
on their offshore phosphate project in New Zealand.
When reached for
comment on the current situation in Namibia, Chris Castle,
Chatham Project Director, said he was "a bit surprised" by the
developments, but wasn’t worried as
Chatham’s main focus is New Zealand.