Civil Society Vindicated: Searcher Seismic Blasting Halted, For Now

On Monday (07 February 2022) following a nail biting few weeks since Searcher Geodata UK Limited commenced its seismic blasting operations (on or about 24 January 2022) – small-scale fishers from the West Coast and beyond breathed a sigh of relief when the Honourable Justice Thulare directed Searcher to discontinue any activities related to the seismic survey. The interim interim interdict has been granted until the next court date on 7 March, when the merits of the interim interdict would be argued.

The Green Connection’s Community Outreach Coordinator Neville van Rooy, “While it is disheartening that the only way that South Africans can get justice from government is by taking it to court, it does restore our faith when the law protects the rights of the people, as was the case today. From what we could tell, Searcher tried to delay the proceedings, arriving to court unprepared and requesting a postponement. Thankfully, Judge Thulare could not ignore the risk of possible irreparable harm taking place during the postponement period, which he granted. And while we still must prove our case, we are grateful that the seismic blasting will stop, until arguments are heard.”

Fisher woman and Chair of Coastal Links Saldanha (and an applicant) Carmelita Mostert says, “Forward fisher folk, forward! We were very strong today. I am so glad that together we have come so far to protect our oceans and our livelihoods. We must continue to stand in unity and solidarity with all small-scale fishers and take this case forward.”

Civil society organizations picket against seismic survey on the west coast, outside Cape Town High Court

The Green Connection is only one (1) of fourteen (14) applicants, which is largely made up of small-scale fishers and associations, including Steenberg Cove Small-Scale Fishing Community, Aukatowa Small-Scale Fisheries Cooperative, and Coastal Links Langebaan. Outside the court, small-scale fishers from the West Coast and environmental activists held a demonstration to drive home the message that seismic surveys threaten their livelihoods and endangers the rich, yet delicate marine ecosystem of the region. They also made clear that, in their view, the development of an ocean’s economy should have fisher folk at its heart and therefore would not include harmful offshore oil and gas exploration and drilling.

 

Small-scale fisher woman from Langebaan Coastal Links (and an applicant in the case) Solene Smith says, “I am so happy about today’s outcome. I am especially grateful that we – as small-scale fishers, who always have to struggle to be recognised – have such a wonderful team of support behind us. From all the lawyers and legal teams to the people who spend time to ensure that we know our human and environmental rights, we are grateful to have the support of people who care about the wellbeing, the livelihoods, and the heritage of small-scale fisher folk.”

 

Smith adds, “The ocean means so much to us, as many of our ancestors are buried there and already our children and grandchildren have started to develop as skilled fishers. Therefore, as historically marginalised peoples, small-scale fishers, from Durban all the way to the Port Nolloth, must continue to unite and make our voices heard. The more we learn about our rights, enshrined in the Constitution, the more resolved we are to keep up our fight to protect our ocean and our livelihoods from harmful offshore oil and gas developments. We are stronger together.”

Christian Adams from Steenberg Cove (left) and Neville van Rooy from The Green Connection (right)

According to van Rooy, “These small-scale fishers are making such huge sacrifices to ensure that their rights and livelihoods are recognised. If they do not work, they do not get paid. But this is such a critical issue, since the reconnaissance permit granted to Searcher covers such a vast area, an area which constitutes one of the most productive marine systems in the world.”

Christian Adams, a small-scale fisher from Steenberg Cove in the West Coast and member of the South African Small-Scale Fishers Collective (SASSFC), is also an applicant in the case. Adams says, “We, as small-scale fishers take this as a small victory over the corporate greed and arrogance being pushed by vested interests, which will only benefit a few. We are grateful for all the support we have received so far, but the real work is ahead of us now. This is incredibly serious for us, the small-scale fishers of South Africa because we are fighting for our lives. By protecting our oceans from further damage from oil and gas companies, we are fighting for our very right to live and exist in our communities.”

“Apart from the scientific evidence, or the lack thereof, what about the potential loss of culture? Because, if the harm stretches as far as we fear, I might not be able to continue to pass on the art of fishing to my sons. If we lose that part of our culture, it can never be replaced. No amount of compensation can redress the loss of culture!,” says Adams.

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