EXPANDING: A satellite image of the port of Luderitz. Image Google Maps
EXPANDING: A satellite image of the port of Luderitz. Image Google Maps

New Lüderitz harbour ‘will erase parts of Shark Island’

Jemima Beukes
The planned expansion of the Port of Lüderitz – which could alter Shark Island – has prompted concerns about the preservation of historical sites.

Shark Island was a concentration camp during the Herero and Nama genocide.

Earlier this month, German non-profit organisation Forensis and Forensic Architecture (FA), a research agency based at the University of London, released research findings on the German colonial genocide in modern Namibia.

The research, a collaboration with the Ovaherero Traditional Authority (OTA) and the Nama Traditional Leadership Association (NTLA), “reconstructs the notorious colonial concentration camp at Shark Island, identifies new potential mass grave sites and reveals how plans

by the Namibian government for the expansion of a nearby seaport will erase parts of the camp - and with them vital traces of colonial history”.

These findings were presented at an event titled ‘Indigenous Reflections on Green Hydrogen Production in Southern Namibia’, held in Lüderitz two weeks ago. According to the organisations, the investigation “brings together oral history, archival material, 3D digital modelling and cutting-edge archaeological analysis to reconstruct the structure and operation of the camp, and to reveal its relationship to the area’s contemporary landscape”.

Imminent risk

The study found that “the proposed extension of the Lüderitz port in Robert Harbour poses further imminent risk to the site”.

The report further mentioned that the development will not only affect Shark Island, but the proposed port expansion will also destroy nearby unmarked burial sites. This while the dredging of nearby waters will very likely disturb the remains of many who died at Shark Island and whose bodies were thrown into the water, it said.

Forensis and FA found that the outskirts of Lüderitz are “scattered with numerous grave sites that are very likely the interments of deceased former inmates of Shark Island”.

“According to ground penetrating radar scans, at least one of these grave sites is likely to contain mass graves,” the organisations said.

Foresis and FA joined forces with the OTA and the NTLA in 2022 to investigate the genocide that occurred between 1904 and 1908.

Big plans

In the first phase of the proposed port expansion project, six hectares of land next to the current harbour - and adjacent to Shark Island - will be reclaimed, Namibian Port Authority (Namport) port engineer, Elzevir Gelderbloem, said.

He added that the existing quay wall will be extended by 250 metres.

The construction process could begin in 2025 if all approvals are in place, for completion within 24 months. Funding, which is estimated at around N$2 billion, must be secured in the third quarter of 2024, he said. Tenders will be issued for construction by the first quarter of 2025, if all approvals and financing are in place.

The construction process will be completed within two years and the first phase may be commissioned by 2027, according to Gelderbloem.

The engineer said the existing port, located on 25 hectares of land, is bursting at the seams.

"We have 95% existing site occupancy and port utilisation. It is best practice to extend your port when slot occupancy reaches 65%. The proposed 250-metre extra quay wall length will accommodate one additional manganese carrier or two platform supply vessels. Customers for the expanded port are already at our gate," he said.

Gelderbloem added that Namport “fully respects” the historical significance of Shark Island and the need to preserve it.

“The development of the Robert Harbour quay wall extension project is physically separated from Shark Island as it only occurs in the adjacent waters east of Shark Island. All required environmental and archaeological impact studies are currently being carried out, including an underwater inspection to search for any artefacts. No works will commence until all required approvals are in place.”

Green hydrogen ambitions

Namibia’s green hydrogen ambitions, especially at Lüderitz, will largely be rolled out by Hyphen Hydrogen Energy, a company specifically formed to develop green hydrogen projects in the country.

Earlier this year, Germany, as the main driver of the green hydrogen revolution in Namibia, presented a letter of intent (LOI) to Enertrag SE, confirming the suitability of Hyphen’s project in Namibia to be considered for final approval and designated as a “strategic foreign project”.

Dr Robert Habeck, Germany’s federal minister for economic affairs and climate protection, presented the LOI to Dr Gunar Hering, Enertrag CEO, during the Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue (BETD) at the federal foreign office in Berlin.

Namibia’s mines and energy minister Tom Alweendo and green hydrogen commissioner James Mnyupe, who is also the economic advisor to President Nangolo Mbumba, were also present for the signing.

- Additional reporting by Augetto Graig and Otis Daniels

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Namibian Sun 2024-07-17

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