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Shell seismic exploration vessel retreats from S.Africa after court order

Energy giant Shell has retrieved a vessel deployed to explore for oil and gas off South Africa’s pristine Indian Ocean waters following a court interdict, the company said Friday.

A High Court in the southern town of Makhanda last month ordered Shell to halt its seismic survey operations following a petition brought by environmentalists worried about the impact on whales and other species.

A Shell spokesman told AFP that “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”.

“We are looking ahead to a resolution of the outstanding legal case and are considering the best way forward for the licence in the longer term”.

The Anglo-Dutch giant ran into fierce opposition, as campaigners warned of potential harm to whales, dolphins and seals, which rely on hearing to survive, as well as to birds, fish stocks and microscopic plankton.

Its 126-metre-long vessel quit South African waters on Tuesday, headed for Spain’s Canary Islands, according to the MarineTraffic website.

It had been scheduled to extract 3D seismic data over more than 6,000 square kilometres (2,300 square miles) of ocean off South Africa’s Wild Coast — a 300-kilometre (185-mile) stretch of natural beauty dotted with marine and nature reserves.

Campaigners argued that the research would have sent an “extremely” loud shock wave every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day for five months, potentially harming marine species, disrupting their feeding and reproductive routines.

But Shell had argued that it took “great care to prevent or minimise” the impact on wildlife.