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’Viva the ocean, viva’... activists celebrate as Shell’s Wild Coast blasting stopped

Published Dec 28, 2021


Durban environmentalist activists have welcomed the Makhanda High Court’s decision to stop Shell from carrying out exploration for oil and natural gas off the Wild Coast.

Judge Gerald Bloem had reserved judgement after a lengthy day of argument before Christmas between legal teams representing coastal communities, the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy and the oil giant.

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Bloem granted the applicants Amadiba, Dwesa-Cwebe, Port St Johns and Kei Mouth communities an interdict against Shell. The Minister and Shell were ordered to pay the applicants' cost.

Janet Solomon, director of Oceans not Oil, called the decision “a complete testament to the power of the law in this country and to people power”.

Des d’Sa, co-ordinator of the South Durban Environmental Community Alliance, sent out a quick text message: “Viva fish and the ocean. Viva!”

Shell’s blasting of air guns to tell if the resources were under the seabed, which started on December 2, will now have to stop.

At the December 17 hearing, advocate Thembeka Ngcukayithobi argued that Shell was acting illegally and should not be allowed to continue, that communities he represents were not consulted and that it was not appropriate for Shell to have dealt only with certain kings and a dubious representative.

Ngcukayithobi lashed out at Shell's lawyer for regarding their cultural, religious and spiritual relationship with the ocean as “subjective” and that had the company consulted better, it would have come up with better knowledge about planning mitigating factors to the “blasting”.

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Adrian Friedman, on behalf of Shell, said the company was applying mitigating factors beyond what was legally required and that the exploration vessel was far away from where coastal communities enjoyed living beside the ocean.

Ngcukayithobi presented evidence from scientists on how sensitive endangered species, including right whales and loggerhead and leather back turtles, would be negatively affected by the “jet engine” sounds of the air guns.

He said he was astonished that a company of Shell’s size did not have environmental experts at hand to challenge the anti-exploration lobby’s concerns that it considered exaggerated amid denying that irreparable damage would be done.

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Friedman claimed that the granting of the interdict would be “catastrophic” for Shell as it stood to lose around a billion rand should exploration be forced to halt.

He also said the coastal communities’ application to the court so soon after the previous application by other entities, and rejected with costs, amounted to an abuse of the legal system.

He questioned why they had not been among the applicants in a previous similar application for a similar interdict, which the same court, presided over by a different judge, rejected.

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The Minister of Mineral Resources’ legal counsel submitted that the coastal communities’ case justified only an application for a review rather than an urgent interdict.

The Independent on Saturday