Phosphate mining gets green light

A controversial offshore phosphate mining operation has been issued environmental clearance, but the government has given the assurance that strict conditions must be met.


Despite strong resistance from environmental groups, environmental clearance has been granted to start with marine phosphate mining.

The Ministry of Environment and Tourism has granted the certificate to Namibia Marine Phosphate, which is developing the world''s first marine phosphate project off the coast of Namibia.

An environmental clearance certificate is required by law before any mining activity can start in the country.

The clearance was issued by the environmental commissioner in the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Theofillius Nghitila, for the Sandpiper Project located about 120km southwest of Walvis Bay.

Environment minister Pohamba Shifeta however reassured the public that very strict conditions will have to be met before operations can start.

Shifeta stressed that the granting of environmental clearance is only the first step and that the ministry still has the right to withdraw it should it feel that there are negative impacts on the environment.

He further explained that environmental clearance cannot be denied if there is no actual impact on the environment. He said he as the minister cannot interfere in the processes of the environmental commissioner, but that if anybody is unsatisfied they still have the right to appeal.

“There are still plenty of conditions that have to be met and it will still be a long process before they can start.”

According to the letter issued by Nghitila the environmental impact assessment and environmental management plan submitted to the ministry were sufficient.

Nghitila said from this perspective regular environmental monitoring and evaluation should be conducted and targets for improvement should also be established.

It was stressed that because the project is located in an environmentally sensitive area the ministry reserves the right to attach further legislative and regulatory conditions during the operational phase of the project.

“This clearance letter does not in any way hold the Ministry of Environment and Tourism accountable for misleading information or adverse effects that may arise from the activities of this this project. Instead full accountability rests with Namibia Marine Phosphate and their consultants,” Nghitila said.

He warned that if any negative impacts are identified, the operation would be terminated.

“In the event that during the ongoing environmental monitoring and review process significant environmental impacts have been observed and are associated with the proposed phosphate mining, processing or beneficiation techniques and no feasible and acceptable corrective measures were implemented, such an operation shall be closed and the environmental clearance certificate shall be withdrawn in order to preserve the integrity of the marine environment,” he said. 

Other conditions include that NMP must obtain environmental clearance for its onshore phosphate processing plants.

Furthermore, bi-annual reports on the implementation of the environmental management plan must be submitted to the ministry of environment as well as the fisheries ministry.

According to Nghitila the dredged seabed and water column monitoring must be carried out on a regular basis and reports must be submitted quarterly to the environment ministry.

It is also expected that the company must fund the monitoring capacity of phosphate mining through the establishment of a centre of excellence to monitor impacts of phosphate mining on the marine ecosystem. This will help develop generic standards and guidelines for monitoring marine phosphate mining and processing in Namibia.

Another condition is that data generated must be shared freely in order to contribute in the field of marine resources and phosphate mining.

Also, technology should be carefully selected in order to avoid causing unnecessary environmental impacts. It should also be used with caution to avoid placing the health of the marine environment in danger.

The ministry said the proposed mining and processing techniques must be reviewed annually and the results of the environmental monitoring undertaken should be taken into account.

The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources could not be reached for comment yesterday, while questions sent to NMP went unanswered.

NMP said in a recent media statement that the environmental impact assessment and environmental management plan, as supported by the findings of the verification study and the peer review report, confirmed that, “The policy decision on whether to proceed is a national one, but we (peer review team) can say that the information provided to us has convinced us that everything points to there being a minimal impact of the proposed operation, should a licence be granted, to the Namibian shelf ecosystem.”

NMP shareholding is divided among Mawarid Mining (Namibia) Pty Ltd (42.5%) and Sea Phosphates (Namibia) Pty Ltd (42.5%) both wholly-owned subsidiaries of Mawarid Mining LLC (85%), an Omani company, and Havana Investments Pty Ltd (15%), a Namibian company.

The project is estimated to yield 1.8 billion tons of phosphoric sand and carries an estimated N$5.2 billion in investment capital.

The financial forecasts of the project entail annual revenues of N$4.2 billion, annual estimated taxes and royalties of N$728 million to the fiscus, and will generate direct and indirect employment and spin-offs for SMEs and other sectors of the economy