Windhoek — Works and Transport Deputy Director for Marine Pollution Control and Search and Rescue Pineas Auene says Namibia is ready to tackle any oil spills or pollution in its coastal waters.
Auene revealed that over the past 10 years Namibia did not record any major oil spill incidences, in exception of the 2018 March Walvis Bay spill.
The oil spill that occurred last year in the bay off the port of Walvis Bay was successfully contained and the last remnants of the remaining pollutant were gradually cleaned up.
The oil spill occurred between Afrodite Beach and the new site where the construction of the North Port harbour development is under way.
The oil spill was reported to the Namibian Ports Authority (Namport), where the Directorate of Maritime Affairs, together with the pollution response team of Namport immediately deployed a specialised team.
Auene made the remarks when he joined the Minister of Information Communication and Technology Stanley Simataa during the Cabinet briefing to the media on Thursday on Namibia's accession to two annexes of the international conventions submitted to Cabinet by the Works and Transport Minister John Mutorwa.
Simataa said Cabinet approved, in principle, Namibia's accession to Annexes IV and VI of the International Convention for Prevention of Pollution from Ships 1973, as modified by the Protocol of 1978 related thereto and by the Protocol of 1997 (MARPOL), and referred it to the Cabinet Committee on Legislation for further scrutiny before its tabling in the National Assembly for ratification.
Equally, Simataa said Cabinet approved, in principle, Namibia's accession to the International Convention on Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution Damage (Bunker Convention 2001), and also referred to the same Cabinet committee for similar processes before its ratification.
Auene explained that the MARPOL Convention deals with precautionary aspects, while the Bunker Convention deals with remedial aspects should a spill occur and who will be accountable.
He said the Bunker Convention was adopted to cover a gap within the international regime that governs issues of civil liabilities of 1992 which cover oil spills from tankers and the fund convention which is an additional measure a coastal state can have in terms of compensation.
He revealed that most of the vessels that come to the Namibian coastal waters are not necessarily tankers (only about five percent are tankers).
"What happens if a megacarrier comes to our shores and an incidence of navigation occurs and you have a pollution incidence? So, the international community felt there is a need for that gap to be closed so the Bunker Convention was adopted to cover oil spills from non-tankers. That means your passenger vessels, fishing vessels, dry cargo vessels which come and pick up our salt," he explained.
Auene said as a coastal state, Namibia does not have to prove that there was wrongdoing on the part of the vessel, as it only has to prove that the oil spill or pollution was occasioned by a specific person.
Further, he noted the Bunker Convention also requires vessels to have protection and indemnity coverage should a spill occur and they would then take full responsibility of such damages.
"We can sue insurance directly. We don't have to go look for the ship owners, we can go straight to the underwriters," he explained.
Auene said these conventions will bolster Namibia's marine preparedness and response system should a specific incident occur - then they would not use taxpayers' money.
He cited March last year's oil spill incident at Walvis Bay which he said ran close to a million dollars in terms of response.
Hence, he said it's very important that party states -Namibia included - have insurance cover and all ships coming to Namibian ports are inspected to ensure they carry the mandatory certificates.
He said incidences that occur within Namport in Walvis Bay or Lüderitz limits, are taken care of by tenants (polluters) themselves, unless it's really beyond them for it to become a national issue.
He stated there is however a National Marine Pollution Contingency Plan in place which was approved by Cabinet in 2017 to establish a whole government approach to marine pollution, preparedness and response.
These include various government ministries, law enforcement agencies, and coastal municipalities as well as regional councils. He said the works ministry cannot respond to major oil spills or pollution alone, hence its collective effort from various stakeholders. He revealed that one of the challenges facing government is lack of manpower and equipment.
MARPOL contains 6 annexes, concerned with preventing different forms of marine pollution from ships.