19 February 2019

Namibia Dairies Has No Disaster Plan

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The environment ministry says Namibia Dairies, the company that caused an oil spill which contaminated Windhoek's water, had no environmental management plan, as required by law.

The spill at the company's plant in Avis resulted in the City of Windhoek shutting down two water treatment plants at the beginning of this month after 2 040 litres of fuel found its way into the city's sewer system.

Namibia Dairies, which is headed by Gunther Ling, now faces a N$32 million clean-up and rehabilitation fee.

There is, however, a blame game over who should bear responsibility for the environmental damage.

The City of Windhoek is pointing fingers at Namibia Dairies, and expects them to pay for the clean-up, while the private company has in turn blamed the municipality and Engen, the oil supply company.

The environment ministry's spokesperson, Romeo Muyunda, told The Namibian yesterday that Namibia Dairies, owned by the Olhthaver & List Group, failed to comply with regulations on how to handle disasters since 2012 when the Environmental Management Act was implemented.

"In the case of Namibia Dairies, after collecting relevant information to establish facts around the spill and their compliance to the act, the ministry established that they do not have an environmental management plan nor an environmental clearance certificate," Muyunda stressed.

He explained that the ministry issued a compliance order last Friday, directing Namibia Dairies to submit an environmental management plan, and also to attach a contingency plan on how they are going to deal with the oil spill.

"The deadline they were given is 29 March 2019, and failure to comply by then would lead to legal action being taken against them, and they are aware of this," Muyunda added.

The Environmental Management Act of 2007 states that no person may undertake any activity which is listed as such that it may cause any damage to the environment, unless that person is a holder of an environmental clearance certificate.

The act states that any person who breaks this law can be fined up to N$500 000, or sentenced to not more than 25 years in prison.

The ministry also insisted that it is not their responsibility to police companies on whether they are complying with the law or not.

Muyunda added that the Windhoek municipality was supposed to know better, and enforce the law on any firm operating within its boundaries.

BLAME GAME

Ohlthaver & List (O&L) Group executive chairman Sven Thieme could not say whether they will pay for the clean-up, but referred The Namibian to the group's spokesperson, Patricia Hoeksema, who appeared to shield the group from culpability.

When asked if they are going to pay the N$32 million for the clean-up, she insisted that although the tank which contained oil is on the group's premises, Engen Namibia was responsible for maintaining it.

"Engen Namibia is responsible for holding a valid environmental clearance certificate," she said, adding that Namibia Dairies is not responsible for maintaining any sewer or drainage system, including water drains, as this is the responsibility of the municipality of Windhoek.

Hoeksema also denied claims by the ministry of environment and the City of Windhoek that the company has no environmental management plan.

"Namibia Dairies has had an environmental management plan concerning the Avis site since 2016," she said.

An official from Engen Namibia, who declined to be named, also denied culpability for the spill, countering that the spill was not from their tank, but from a pipe inside the Namibia Dairies factory.

According to the source, Engen was only responsible for the maintenance of the tank, but not the pipes inside the factory.

The oil company also said that in terms of the environmental clearance certificate, the customer is the one who applies for the certificate, not them. In this case, it is Namibia Dairies' baby.

The environmental clearance certificate will be in the customer's name as the owner of the premises, the source added.

"The ministry will work with the City of Windhoek to see what is the best solution to the problem. Punitive measures will only be discussed after the investigations are completed," he added.

PAY UP

The municipality's spokesperson, Harold Akwenye, confirmed to The Namibian last week that Namibia Dairies will pay around N$32 million to clean up and rehabilitate all infrastructure damaged by the spill.

"The Environmental Management Act as well as the Water Act are clear that "the polluter shall pay," he stated.

Akwenye advised companies to use the best technologies, preventative methods, and on-site treatment facilities to reduce the pollution load to both the Gammams and Ujams waste treatment plants.

He added that the city council will submit a claim to Namibia Dairies regarding all costs associated with the rehabilitation of the environment, cleaning of the Gammams waste water treatment plant, and consequential damage.

Th!nk Namibia Environmental Awareness Campaign coordinator Rodney Seibeb said the fact that swift action was taken to contain most of the oil spill on site is commendable.

"However, the heavy oil has entered the water system, and regardless of the amount of fuel that entered the water system, petroleum products are toxic, therefore harmful to people and other living organisms," Seibeb observed.

He said news of heavy oil entering the water system is worrisome as this can have a long-term effect on the environment.

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