Tradewinds: ‘Can’t stop Gearbulk’
Norwegian diplomats want bulkers to stop loading phosphate in Western Sahara but their jawbones are their only weapon.
Published 18 September 2007

25 June 2007
By Bob Rust

Norway wants bulkers to stop loading phosphate in Western Sahara but the country’s diplomats say ‘moral-political’ jawboning is all they can do about it.

Bergen shipowner Kristian Gerhard Jebsens Skipsrederi (KGJS) is running into domestic criticism for its part in the commodities export trade of the Moroccan-controlled territory.

Norway’s foreign ministry says it would like to help more but can only offer advice.

Political opponents of the trade are spotlighting tomorrow’s scheduled unloading of Gearbulk’s 52,000-dwt open-hatch bulker Bulk Saturn (built 2003) at Bluff, New Zealand, after calls at Whangarei and Tauranga carrying a load of phosphates from Western Sahara. London-based Gearbulk is 60% owned by the Norwegian company.

Norwegian idealistic organisation Framtiden i vare hender ("The future in our hands") has been tracking the ship.

The disputed trade and the opposition to it have roots that go back to the period of European colonialism.

The United Nations has considered the area a “non-self governing territory” for more than 40 years, since before the time Spain handed it over to Morocco and Mauritania.

Starting in 1975 the two Northwest African countries were allied in a bloody war against the rebel Polisario Front and the native population. Mauritania eventually withdrew its claim in favour of Morocco, which still wields control over the large territory and its natural resources.

Australia is the main importer of Western Saharan phosphates. Supporters of the Polisario Front there have argued for a national ban on the imports but Australian fertiliser and agriculture industries have countered that Western Sahara is the only possible supplier of phosphate of the quality and quantity Oz farmers need.

In Norway, the foreign ministry indicates that its heart is in the right place but its hands are tied.

“We can offer moral-political challenges but we cannot support the challenge with action,” foreign ministry spokesman Jorn Gjelstad told Norwegian press bureau NTB.

He added: “When business activity violates the interests of the local population we believe it violates international law. Our clear line is that we advise against this type of business activity.”

In Australia, the foreign ministry takes no such position and has only warned Australia’s phosphate importers to seek legal advice before importing anything from Western Sahara because of “international law considerations”.

Last year the Polisario Front and the corresponding Western Saharan government in exile had some success in negotiating licenses that give oil companies exploration rights that they can exercise once the Morrocans are out.

However, only the Moroccans are able to supply non-hypothetical raw materials from Western Sahara for now.

Some Money Smells Too Bad

"It is surprising that mainly Bergen-owned Gearbulk sails for the occupying power Morocco". Read here editorial in one of Norway's biggest newspapers, Bergens Tidende, 29th of June 2008.

01 July 2008

Norwegian government party demands Gearbulk to terminate transports

A statement was unanimously adopted at the Norwegian Socialist Left Party\'s National Board meeting today, 16th of june 2008, asking Gearbulk to terminate its engagement in Western Sahara. The Socialist Left Party is the second biggest party in the Norwegian coalition government. Read the statement here.
16 June 2008

Norwatch: Gearbulk continuing unethical transport

Three Norwegian shipping companies have apologized and stopped their operations in occupied Western Sahara. However, the Bergen-owned company Gearbulk continues their controversial transports. Next week, yet another Gearbulk vessel is due to arrive in a New Zealand harbour with phosphates. The Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara argues that the Sahrawi population has suffered a financial loss amounting to 200 million USD, as a result of the shipments of this shipping company alone. Norwatch, 12 June 2008.
15 June 2008

About the Gearbulk shipments and the 'Simge Aksoy' bulk vessel

Read more about Gearbulk's involvement in Western Sahara, and the vessel Simge Aksoy here. As of June 2008, the vessel can have transported phosphates from Western Sahara for more than 200,000 million US dollars.

10 June 2008