Who will foot the oil spill bill?

Seven weeks after the catastrophic oil spill at Namibia Dairies in the capital, it is still unclear who is responsible, and more importantly, who will pay for the cleaning operations.

31 March 2019 | Disasters

Windhoek • Clemens von Alten

Although the Gammams wastewater treatment plant is fully operational again, the quality of treated water leaves much to be desired after its temporary shutdown.

“Many of the microorganisms, including good bacteria that helps get rid of impurities in the waste water, have been lost,” said the municipality's chief engineer, Sebastian Hüsselmann.

It will still take some time for the biological processes to completely recover, to the dismay of the Windhoek Goreangab Operating Company (WINGOC), which receives waste water from the Gammans wastewater treatment plant and treats water until it is fit for human consumption.

Although the plant resumed operations on 8 March, it is only able to produce about half of its usual volume. “As the quality of treated drinking water improves, WINGOC can gradually increase production,” said the City of Windhoek's spokesperson, Lydia Amutenya.

In the meantime, NamWater is supplying the capital with additional drinking water.

The question however remains, who is responsible for the damage of infrastructure and the environment?

The deciding factor will likely be whether Namibia Dairies has met legal requirements for handling heavy oil.

According to media reports, the Ministry of the Environment was quoted as saying that the company has no environmental management plan, while the parent company of the dairy, Ohlthaver & List (O&L) claims the opposite. “Namibia Dairies was given until 29 March to meet all conditions. Only then will we know if they comply with requirements,” Amutenya said.

Another issue is whether or not Namibia Dairies informed the treatment plant of the oil leak timeously.

The incident occurred in the early hours of 3 February on the property of the dairy in Avis. According to official data, a boiler pressure valve failed, causing 24 000 liters of heavy oil to drain, while an estimated 6 000 liters spilled into city sewers.

To prevent damage, the Gammams plant was shut down soon after and all wastewater was diverted directly to the Goreangab dam. Nevertheless, an unknown amount of oil reached the sewage treatment plant, which could not resume operations until about three weeks later.

According to estimates by a South African expert, the complete refurbishment of the plant could cost up to N$32 million. Meanwhile, although other experts have been consulted, more details on the financial scope of the damage could not be given by Amutenya. It is also unclear how severe the impact is on the environment.

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