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Fishing communities file court papers to protect the West Coast from seismic survey

Small scale fishers Christians Adams, left, and Anthony Ruiters, right, representing the Steenberg Cove Small Scale Fishing Community with Green Connective's Elizabeth Liziwe McDaid outside the Western Cape High after papers challenging the seismic exploration on the West Coast were lodged. Picture Supplied.

Small scale fishers Christians Adams, left, and Anthony Ruiters, right, representing the Steenberg Cove Small Scale Fishing Community with Green Connective's Elizabeth Liziwe McDaid outside the Western Cape High after papers challenging the seismic exploration on the West Coast were lodged. Picture Supplied.

Published Jan 23, 2022

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At least 14 applicants representing civil society, fishing communities and other affected parties have approached the Western Cape High Courts to halt seismic activities by Australian company, Searcher Seismic

The seismic blasting in search of hydrocarbons on the West Coast will have a social, economic and environmental effect, according to papers lodged in the Western Cape High Court.

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This is the argument of 14 applicants representing civil society, fishing communities and other interested and affected parties who have approached the courts to halt Australian company Searcher Seismic.

The two-part application was filed on Friday and seeks to urgently interdict the seismic activities as well as declare Minerals and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe’s decision to grant the reconnaissance permit unlawful.

Civil society and fishing communities argued that the effects would be far-reaching, threatening the livelihood of the marginalised and future stock of marine resources.

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They further argue that Searcher did not conduct meaningful public participation and have also questioned the environmental authorisation.

They also ask the court to set aside the permit and order consultation be taken with all interested and affected parties.

Lawyers for the small-scale fishers, the Legal Resources Centre, also confirmed that papers of notice of the legal action were also served on the respondents who included Mantashe, Searcher Seismic, the Petroleum Agency of South Africa (Pasa).

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The seismic survey will be conducted by the vessel BGP Pioneer, which was scheduled to arrive at in Cape Town on January 15 and was reportedly sighted near St Helena Bay six days later.

The court action comes just weeks after the Makhanda High Court forced Shell to suspend its seismic survey off the Wild Coast.

Despite a request for an undertaking not to commence with the seismic survey until an environmental authorisation had been granted and legal proceedings were finalised, Searcher failed to do so.

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In his founding affidavit, the main applicant and small-scale fisher in Steenberg Coves, St Helena Bay, Christian Adams argued that Searcher's activities would have a profound impact on marine and bird life in the area allowed by the permit and beyond.

According to Adams, the planned activities would also have "a profound" impact on the small-scale fishing communities, on their right to work and earn a living , to food security and their cultural and traditional rights.

Adams said Searcher had not made any meaningful attempt to engage to ascertain how the communities would be impacted and how these effects could be mitigated or managed.

In terms of the National Environmental Management Act, Searcher was obliged and directed to consult meaningfully with all interested and affected parties including the small-scale fishers.

"Without such consultation Searcher cannot appreciate and accommodate the extensive harm that its activities are likely to cause,“ he argued.

Supporting affidavits were filed included Elizabeth Liziwe McDaid of the Green Connection, an environmental and social justice civil society organisation opposed to offshore oil and gas exploration.

McDaid said: “It’s outrageous that we find ourselves in a position where government and the oil and gas industry are willing to risk the livelihoods of small-scale fishers.”

She said hake and snoek which were found in the area played a critical role in the livelihood of fishing communities.

“According to experts, the behaviour of snoek might be disrupted due to the seismic blasting,” McDaid said.

Founder of the civil society movement, We Are South Africans (Wasa), represented in the matter by Richard Spoor, said in his affidavit that the seismic survey would cover the entire Western Cape coast from the border in Namibia to Cape Agulhas.

Gilbert Martin said in Wasa's own research, they had found outdated research had been used in the "environmental assessment" by Searcher and no local scientists were involved or referenced.

"Of the six responses that Searcher received to their application which they claim was gazetted as an advertisement in a few local papers and an email sent to 300 people on their interested and affected parties on their database, four were in opposition, one municipality had agreed as long as laws were being followed and the Western Cape government are investigating how an unsigned document was provided as their approval.

"So based on very limited comments, the permit was granted by Pasa," Martin said.

He said some of the communities also opposed the planned seismic survey and raised concerns as they knew first-hand what damage the mining ventures and explorations had on the environment and the local farming communities.

Martin said: "We are not against any form of development. But decent development that provides meaningful benefits to all South Africans will never happen without informed consultation".

He said based on previous projects communities did not benefit from the promises of development and jobs.

Martin further argued that based on the movement's research on the ownership of the rights, the tax rebates and benefits thereof to foreign-owned and politically connected companies would result in South Africans ultimately buying their own gas back at a premium to be used for energy.

The respondents have until tomorrow to furnish the court with their notice to oppose as the matter is expected to be heard in the first week of February.

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