The vessel NM Cherry Blossom is stuck at anchor 4 kilometers off Port Elizabeth, South Africa, not allowed to continue on its journey to New Zealand.
The liberation movement of Western Sahara, Frente Polisario has thus managed to intercept and detain the shipment carrying 5,2 million USD worth of conflict minerals destined for the New Zealand agriculture industry. The phosphate is being exported by a Moroccan state-owned company in the territory which is under foreign Moroccan occupation, and used to produce fertilizers. The cargo is estimated at 54.000 tonnes.
New Zealand was in 2016 the second biggest importer of the conflict mineral, according to the report P for Plunder 2016, published by WSRW last week.
NM Cherry Blossom – was originally scheduled to arrive in Bluff, New Zealand, on 30 May 2017 according to the website of Southport. The vessel is owned by the Greek company AM Nomikos Transworld Maritime (www.amnomikos.net, tel +30 210 615 5200, +30 210 619 8220). Its current location can be tracked on the website Marinetraffic.
The vessel stopped over in South Africa for provisioning. And it was during those few hours that authorities from Western Sahara initiated legal proceedings against the vessel. A court order resulted in the detention of the cargo aboard the ship.
The Saharawi people and their representative organization, has long protested the illegal mining and export of phosphate rock from that part of Western Sahara under armed occupation since 1975 by Morocco. The trade has continued despite the commitment of the United Nations in 1991 to oversee a self-determination referendum for the people of Western Sahara, a territory dealt with by the UN as Africa’s last colonial issue.
"The export of these non-renewable resources from a place under armed occupation is a violation of well-settled principles of international law. It is a war crime", stated Kamal Fadel, the Saharawi representative for Australia and New Zealand.
"The resources need to stay in the ground until the Saharawi people are allowed the basic commitment of the international community to choose their future", Fadel said.
The seizure of the cargo under court order comes only months after Saharawi authorities successfully concluded a case against the European Union for extending a free trade agreement with Morocco into Western Sahara. In the case, for which the Court of Justice of the European Union issued its final judgment on 21 December 2016, the Court noted that Morocco did not have governing competency or any territorial claim to Western Sahara. The territory, the Court concluded, is to be treated as a separate entity from Morocco and the consent of its people (the Saharawi people and not more recent settlers) required for development and export of resources.
There are two clients of such product in New Zealand: Ravensdown and Ballance Agri-Nutrients. They have over the last years been reluctant to comment on this issue to media. It is not confirmed which of the two is the importer. WSRW has confronted the two New Zealand importers for a number of years.
Below: NM Cherry Blossom seen departing the occupied territory a few weeks before its detention.
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.
It's not easy keeping up with all the different legal proceedings relating to Western Sahara. For the sake of clarity, here's an overview of the three different cases at the Court of Justice of the European Union.
Leading activists from Western Sahara are condemned to sentences ranging from 20 years to life imprisonment in connection to a mass protest in 2010 denouncing the Saharawi people’s social and economic marginalization in their occupied land; the Gdeim Izik protest camp.
At COP22, beware of what you read about Morocco’s renewable energy efforts. An increasing part of the projects take place in the occupied territory of Western Sahara and is used for mineral plunder, new WSRW report documents.