Oil and gas survey vessel the Amazon Warrior chugs out of South Africa

Shell has terminated the contract for the vessel, the Amazon Warrior, following last week’s court ruling halting the oil giant from conducting further exploration in its controversial 3D seismic survey for oil and gas fields along the sensitive Wild Coast. 

The Amazon Warrior, which is owned by Shearwater GeoServices, left the Cape Town harbour earlier this week and is now en route to the port of Las Palmas, Spain, according to the latest AIS data.

“I can confirm that as legal hearings about the survey are not yet completed and the weather window for conducting the work is limited, Shell has decided to terminate the current contract for the survey vessel early, in agreement with the contractor,” said Shell South Africa spokesperson Pam Ntaka.

“We are looking ahead to a resolution of the outstanding legal case and are considering the best way forward for the licence in the longer term.”

In October, Shearwater GeoServices announced it had won the major seismic exploration project to acquire more than 6 000 square kilometres of 3D seismic data from December 2021 until April this year. The vessel’s arrival in November sparked protests.

In December, small-scale fishers from the Amadiba, Cwebe, Hobeni, Port St Johns and Kei Mouth areas, together with Sustaining the Wild Coast and All Rise Attorneys for Climate and the Environment, filed an application for an urgent interdict to immediately halt Shell’s seismic survey.

Jointly represented by the Legal Resources Centre and Richard Spoor Attorneys, the applicants argued that the seismic testing would cause significant harm to the environment, livelihoods, culture and heritage of Wild Coast residents.

On 28 December, the high court in Makhanda agreed, granting the urgent interdict, with Judge Gerald Bloem describing how Shell was under a duty to meaningfully consult the people who would be affected by the seismic survey but had failed to do so.

“In all the circumstances, it seems to me that the exploration right, which was awarded on the basis of a substantially flawed consultation process, is thus unlawful and invalid,” he said.

Bloem said the applicants had adduced a sizable body of expert evidence, which “establishes a reasonable apprehension of irreparable harm to marine life” and that the mitigation measures upon which Shell relies are inadequate.

“In addition to the harm to marine life, the applicants have also established how the seismic survey will, firstly, negatively impact on the livelihood of the fishers and, secondly, cause cultural and spiritual harm.”

Bloem ordered Shell and the minister of mineral resources and energy, Gwede Mantashe, to pay the costs of the application for the interim interdict.

A court will now need to determine whether Shell requires an environmental authorisation under the National Environmental Management Act, when part B of the application is dealt with.

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

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