Polish company undertakes seismic studies in occupied Western Sahara
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The Polish seismic services company Geofizyka Kraków ignored warnings and started seismic studies for oil exploration in occupied territory.

Published: 09.06 - 2016 09:00Printer version    
Click on images for higher resolution. First two photos and videos are from the Saharawi resource association AMRPENWS. Remaining photos are from the Saharawi journalistic group Equipe Media.

geofyzika_krakow1_350.jpgA subsidiary of a Polish state owned oil company is currently present in occupied Western Sahara, in spite of warnings to both the company and to the industry, as well as concerns from the United Nations (UN). The entire study is located in the part of Western Sahara which is under Moroccan occupation. The UN has stated that such oil exploration in Western Sahara is in violation of international law.

"Geofizyka Kraków has registered its new branch in Morocco in February. In March the Cracow company proceeded to the execution of a contract for seismic surveys for national company ONHYM", the company wrote on its website on 23 March 2016 (or download). The study takes place on what ONHYM labels the "Lemsid" block, which was carved out last year.

The Saharawi media group Equipe Media on 7 June published the following details of the operation:
  • 9 large trucks are present on the compound (of which 7 are seismic study trucks without number plates, one is an orange truck for maintenance of the seismic trucks, and one is for reception of seismic data). 52 4wd cars are also part of the expedition.
  • The trucks and staff living quarters are enclosed by sand walls, barbed wire and armed forces. The company employees settled in the compound on 22 May 2016, accompanied by the battalion of the Royal Forces responsible for their security.
  • There are approximately 100 people undertaking the work, including Polish and Moroccan company employees. There are also, as well as Moroccans and Saharawis temporarily recruited locally. Around 20 Moroccan armed forces are also involved.
  • One week of landmine clearance was carried out by the Moroccan army prior to the study.  
  • There has been a massive work load on the locally recruited staff, leading to a severe conflict with the management. The conflict has led to a halt in operations.

    The involvement comes at a special period in the company's history. On 6 June, the Polish news service Onet.pl wrote that the company Geofizyka Kraków is about to fold, and to be taken over by Geofizyka Torun, another subsidiary of the state-owned oil and gas company PGNiG. From what is known in Polish media, the new management intends to cancel most of Geofizyka Krakow's foreign projects. So far they have announced they will withdraw from all open tenders outside Poland and will not start in new ones. However, they have so far not mentioned the possibility of cancelling ongoing projects (such as the one in occupied Western Sahara).

    Two warnings were sent out by civil society prior to the company's start-up in the occupied Western Sahara.
  • Most recently, WSRW in June 2015 called on "all companies to not engage in the Lemsid block, or any other petroleum exploration in Western Sahara until a solution to the conflict has been found". This was done when the Moroccan state owned oil company ONHYM had a tender for this exploration programme, claiming that the area was located in "Morocco", which is not the case.

  • Earlier, the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara (NSCWS) sent a fax to Geofizyka Kraków as early as 27 May 2003 requesting that the company not get engaged. "The Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara strongly encourages Geofizyka Kraków z.o.o. not to sign any future contracts with Morocco in this disputed area, without the explicit endorsement form the Saharawi exile government on behalf of its people", NSCWS wrote. This was shortly after Morocco first issued oil licences in Western Sahara, and NSCWS contacted all seismic companies in the world, asking them to abstain from such work. Geofizyka Kraków did not answer the request at the time.  

    The information about the company's presence was first published by The Association for the Monitoring of the Resources and for the Protection of the Environment in Western Sahara (AMRPENWS), including videos of the operation. The organisation urged Geofizyka Kraków  "to pull out from the territory and to take its business elsewhere", underlining that "the people of Western Sahara remain the sole proprietor of the resources of Western Sahara".

    This is the second time that a Polish company is undertaking seismic studies in the occupied territories. The former study was done in 2011 by Novaseis, a Warsaw registered subsidiary of the Irish company San Leon Energy, on two onshore oil blocks further north. San Leon was the operator of those blocks.

    Only three known onshore seismic studies have ever been made in the occupied territory, the third being on the Boujdour onshore block with ONHYM as operator in 2010.

    The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, a body in the UN Human Rights Council, in 2015 urged Morocco to respect the Saharawi people's right to their own resources. The Committee stressed the importance of the Saharawi people's "prior, free and informed consent" with regard to the utilization of their resources, thereby echoing the 2002 UN Legal Counsel's conclusion that "if further exploration and exploitation activities were to proceed in disregard of the interests and wishes of the people of Western Sahara, they would be in violation of the principles of international law".

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    Morocco occupies the major part of its neighbouring country, Western Sahara. Entering into business deals with Moroccan companies or authorities in the occupied territories gives an impression of political legitimacy to the occupation. It also gives job opportunities to Moroccan settlers and income to the Moroccan government. Western Sahara Resource Watch demands foreign companies leave Western Sahara until a solution to the conflict is found.
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