Cape Town - The arrival in Cape Town of the Russian research ship Akademik Alexandr Karpinskiy, which has made oil and gas maps of the climate-stressed Southern Ocean over the years, caused a number of eco-justice organisations and activists to protest against the ship docking at Cape Town Harbour.
The protest was organised by Extinction Rebellion (XR) Cape Town and GreenPeace Cape Town volunteers who were joined by a host of other organisations including the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (Wessa) and its youth, The Green Connection and 350 Africa.
Over almost 25 years, the ship has been mapping Antarctica’s warming Southern Ocean for hydrocarbons, the building blocks for oil and gas. In the process, the protesters believe, the ship and others like it have harmed
Antarctica’s vulnerable marine ecosystems and inflicted sonic distress on marine species, including critically endangered blue whales and emperor penguins.
IA statement released on behalf of XR Cape Town and Greenpeace Cape Town volunteers said: “This constitutes a breach of the 55-nation Antarctic Treaty System, to which both Russia and South Africa are signatories, under which resource exploration and extraction in the Antarctic region has been banned since 1998.”
Judy Scott-Goldman, a spokesperson for XR Cape Town, said the geological exploration company that owned the ship did not believe it was breaking the treaty because it was carrying out scientific research, but there was a narrow line between this kind of scientific research and early stage prospecting for hydrocarbons.
Patrick Dowling, chairperson of the environmental governance committee at Wessa, said: “We are doubtful about the neutrality of this exploratory exercise. Once a group undertakes seismic testing, it means they are looking for something that could potentially be exploited at some point in the future.
“We don’t see this as advisable or justifiable with the current science that is showing we need to be making fast departures from fossil fuels and look more strongly at alternatives.”
Scott-Goldman said it seemed that Russia hoped to start extracting some of these oil or gas resources at some point and if that happened, Antarctica – and the whole world – would suffer even more devastating impacts.
Some participants at the protest also felt it was impossible to not consider the Russian and Ukraine war still taking place.
The ship’s arrival comes just days after a controversial meeting between International Relations and Co-operation Minister Naledi Pandor and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Ukrainians Tetyana and Lera Korytska, supporting the Ukrainian Association of South Africa, said: “We want Antarctica to remain untouched. We don’t wan’t them to look for fuel there, especially as that supports war. No to war and no to fuel research.”
The protest supporters said the ship employs seismic technology similar to that which oil giant Shell intended to use to search for oil and gas off the Wild Coast, which prompted opposition protests across the country and court action to prevent the seismic testing from occurring.
Scott-Goldman said: “We urge the South African government to fulfil its moral duty towards its own citizens, as well as Africa and its future generations, by refusing port entry to the Akademik Alexander Karpinsky and all other vessels engaged in harmful exploration activities in the Antarctic region.”