After S. African Court Defeat, Shell Cancels Seismic Survey Charter

Amazon Warrior (file image courtesy Shearwater)

Published Jan 5, 2022 7:33 PM by The Maritime Executive

After losing a court battle with local indigenous rights activists, Shell has temporarily given up on a seismic campaign off South Africa's scenic Wild Coast. In a statement to Bloomberg, the firm said that it has canceled its contract with Shearwater GeoServices for the use of the seismic vessel Amazon Warrior. 

"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," the company said in a statement. 

Shell had a government-issued permit to conduct the seismic survey, along with a court decision favoring the project. Work began about one month ago, but on December 28, Shell lost a second high court case brought by activists and indigenous groups in Makhanda. In the decision, Judge Gerald Bloem said that Shell had not adequately consulted communities with customary fishing rights in the area. Since meaningful consultation with affected communities is a legal requirement, the judge determined that Shell's exploration license was "unlawful and invalid" and ordered a halt to the campaign. The firm and the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy were also ordered pay the plaintiff's legal costs.

After the decision, a Shell spokesperson told Reuters that "we respect the court’s decision and have paused the survey while we review the judgement."

AIS tracking provided by Pole Star shows that Amazon Warrior arrived off the coast of East London November 29 and loitered in the area until December 31, spending most of her time at low speed on a racetrack course. She then headed for Cape Town, departing again on January 4 for Las Palmas.

The pause in operations marks the second defeat for Shell in the span of a month. In early December, the company decided to cancel its participation in the Cambo project in the UK North Sea. Cambo was a small joint venture with privately-backed Siccar Point Energy, and Shell held a 30 percent non-operating stake. The project came under fire in the run-up to the COP26 conference, when activists accused Shell of pursuing new oil and gas projects despite evidence that they were incompatible with the UK's climate goals. “After comprehensive screening of the proposed Cambo development, we have concluded the economic case for investment in this project is not strong enough at this time, as well as having the potential for delays,” Shell said in a statement December 2.