NAMIBIAN Marine Phosphate (NMP), which intends to mine marine phosphate off the south coast of Walvis Bay, responded to recent media articles which it calls “emotive, unsubstantiated and sensationalised claims or allegations by various parties, which are factually incorrect and/or wholly unsupported by specific scientific data”.
“As a consequence of such, the Namibian public is being misinformed, either deliberately or by default,” the statement issued yesterday read.
The Namibian, amongst others, has carried numerous articles in which particularly the fishing industry is very skeptical of any marine phosphate mining and the possible destructive impacts it would have on the industry, which is one of the country's main economic sectors.
Skepticism is so profound that even the minister of fisheries and marine resources, Bernhard Esau, has called for scientific research to prove without a doubt that marine phosphate mining could co-exist with fisheries.
A moratorium, which could be renewed, was put in place for this reason.
As a result, NMP has embarked on expensive studies to prove that, as it pointed out in its statement now, that “everything points to there being a minimal impact of the proposed operation, should a licence be granted, to the Namibian shelf ecosystem”.
In the most recent articles carried in The Namibian, stakeholders, including the fishing industry, accused NMP and environmental commissioner Theofilus Nghitila of not making NMP's scientific verification report publicly accessible for scrutiny.
Nghitila, however, rubbished these allegations, stating that hard copies were available at his office for anyone to inspect, and that copies were given to the relevant ministries, such as fisheries, which is the competent authority.
The problem, however, was that this report could not be made available electronically as such a system was still a work in progress, Nghitila stated.
In its response, NMP said the advantages and associated risks related to the proposed operation have been fully and properly documented through the regulated statutory processes in place, and that all the crucial areas such as a full compliance with current environmental and mineral legislation; adequate detailed and scientifically substantiated environmental work; and independent reviews by accredited scientific peers and independent reviewers, have been looked at.
NMP also referred to what it calls “inaccurate statements or allegations made in regard to the nature and quality of the environmental studies being desktop studies, or having a lack of site-specific data and analysis, as well as related impacts on the fishing industry”.
Contrary to these allegations, NMP insists that there is in fact a substantial body of existing and new scientific environmental knowledge based on on-site studies in the target production area, along with internationally accredited independent expert opinions on the environment and potential impacts, for the development of the marine phosphate industry.
“To date, NMP has not engaged in the ongoing public debate in the media on this matter out of respect for the government of Namibia and in compliance with the government's wishes, while the government goes through the rigorous internal processes that they are required to complete, supported by gazette regulations and legislation for addressing the scientific and environmental matters that require due consideration,” the statement read.
NMP suggests that the government now has available all of the scientifically supported environmental reports by acknowledged specialists based on samples, analytical data and facts, as well as independent expert opinions, which address the key issues and concerns which have been noted, and that can facilitate their informed decision on the matter.
“The clear consensus of independent expert opinion is that at the scale of the proposed operations, the project can be safely developed and also be well managed within the existing Namibian mining and environmental regulations without impacting fishing resources and in co-existence with the fishing industry,” NMP stated.
NMPs Sandpiper Phosphate Project is 60km offshore from Meob Bay on the central Namibian coast, and 120km south-west of Walvis Bay.
It contains an estimated 1,8 billion tonnes of phosphatic sand with an average phosphate content of approximately 18% to support operations for 20 years.
The project is expected to cost N$5,2 billion, with annual revenues of N$4,2 billion and annual estimated taxes and royalties of N$728 million as contribution to the national GDP.
Phosphorus is said to be vital for food production since it is one of the three critical nutrients (nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus) used in commercial fertiliser.
Phosphorus cannot be manufactured or destroyed, and there is no substitute or synthetic version of it available. Agriculture is therefore heavily dependent on mined rock phosphate and derived fertilisers to support crop yields.
Tests completed by an internationally accredited agency - the International Fertiliser Development Corporation (IFDC) - confirmed that the Namibian phosphate concentrate is suitable for use as a direct application fertiliser, and that the quality ranks within that of the top three global producers.
The phosphate concentrate can also be used to produce a range of other fertiliser and animal feed products.