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‘Who will feed my children if these powerships chase the fish away?’

Small-scale fishers say they are concerned about being left to go hungry if a fleet of controversial Karpowerships scare off fish along South Africa’s coast.

Last week, the environmental consultants for Karpowership, a subsidiary of Turkey’s Karadeniz Energy Group, which is seeking environmental approval to moor five floating gas-to-power ships at the ports of Saldanha Bay, Richards Bay and Ngqura, gave the projects the green light. 

Triplo4 Sustainable Solutions, which conducted the environmental impact assessments (EIAs) on behalf of Karpowership, said the final EIAs were subject to the implementation of mitigation measures and monitoring for potential environmental and socioeconomic effects.  

Opponents of the projects, however, say these mitigation measures are not mentioned in the final EIAs.

The final EIA reports have now been submitted to Forestry, Fisheries and Environment Minister Barbara Creecy, who has eight weeks to decide whether the projects should be given environmental authorisation. 

In March, the department of mineral resources and energy announced Karpowership as a preferred bidder under the emergency electricity programme.

Carmelita Mostert of Saldanha Coastal Links, a community organisation established as a vehicle for small-scale fishers to secure their livelihoods and overall human rights, told the Mail & Guardian this week that: “For me, as a fisherwoman, this is ocean grabbing.”

She is worried that the presence of the vessels will disrupt local fishing activities. “Anything can go wrong and then where must the fishers move to? We are small boats: How can we move to the big waters?” she asked.

Noise could lead to the disappearance of fish stocks, she said. “My question is then who is going to look after our fishers, put food on table for us and put our kids through school?

“Where will the fishers get income because we are the oceans, we are 100% the sea? We live out of the sea. We don’t know any other work other than the sea. Most of our people can’t read or write,” she said.

The final EIA reports describe how the construction of gas pipelines and the uptake of discharge of cooling water could affect marine ecology, but these effects have been determined as “low”. For the Saldanha Bay project, for example, the report describes how the predicted effects  are deemed to be “negligible” or “will probably be indistinguishable from natural background variations”. 

“The uptake of cooling water will have a low impact on marine organisms in the surrounding water body, as there is no lasting effect on this sensitive receptor,” the EIA reads.

“The discharge of cooling water will have a low impact on the marine ecology in the receiving water body, as it will have no lasting effect on the sensitive receptor, that is, plankton and benthic organisms.” 

The reports, however, recommend that baseline studies of the underwater noise climates be initiated.

In the final EIAs, Triplo4’s consultants describe how, should the Karpowership gas-to-energy projects not be implemented, the “benefits of the proposed activities will not be realised”.  

“The status quo with regard to the national supplier will remain, [that is] the national grid will continue to be strained as a result of ageing and failing systems within the fleet until additional supplies can be secured.”  

In a statement, Stanger community member Khalid Mather said the government’s decision in considering the Karpowerships as preferred bidders “smacked of similarities with the previous apartheid regime”. 

“Ignoring the concerns of our people and especially the coastal communities most affected, speaks to the marginalisation of communities, much like what happened in the past. 

“Once again, it is about maintaining the interests of a few at the expense of the masses. Not many of the fishing communities along the KwaZulu-Natal coastline have been consulted about the Karpowerships, while they are the ones who will suffer from the effects of the added pollution and other negative environmental impacts,” he said.

Liziwe McDaid, of The Green Connection, said there seemed to be an “agenda to force the project” ahead despite social, environmental and economic concerns. “Something is fishy in South Africa’s energy sector,” she said.

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Sheree Bega
Sheree Bega is an environment reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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