Fertiliser exports to start from occupied Western Sahara

With a large fertiliser factory and a brand new port, Morocco will open a new chapter in the controversial saga of its plunder of phosphate rock in occupied Western Sahara. 

05 April 2022

Tomorrow: WSRW will launch its annual report on the phosphate trade from occupied Western Sahara - P for Plunder 2022 - on 6 April 2022. Follow this website. 

Photo above: Taken in 2021, this picture shows what is most likely going to be a new control tower. The construction is made a few hundred meters from where the new phosphate harbour is located, on the north side, at 27°02'21.2"N 13°26'05.3"W 

In 2023, Morocco will have completed a new port and a factory for production of fertilizers in occupied Western Sahara.

The investment includes a new, sheltered port, a wharf, and a large production unit to process the raw phosphates.

Photo: APSO

“This is bad news for principles of international law. Morocco has absolutely no right to export these minerals from the territory it holds under occupation”, Morten Nielsen of Western Sahara Resource Watch said.  

There are fundamentally two problems. 

“With a new fertilizer factory, Morocco will be able to export a wider range of phosphate products to new markets that had previously not been dragged into the conflict. This could have political consequences, further undermining the UN peace process that aims to provide self-determination for the Saharawi people. Secondly, Morocco will now be able to earn more from the mine, by exporting more value-added products”, said Nilsen, stressing that it is deeply problematic that international engineering companies have assisted Morocco in its illegal and politically controversial endeavour of plundering the Saharawi people's minerals. 

The overall aim of the investment is to diversify Phosboucraa’s operations, from exporting raw material to producing intermediary products and phosphate based fertilisers.  

The new phosphate factory and port structure in occupied Western Sahara will be completed in 2023.

According to the Moroccan state-owned company behind the mine, OCP, the USD 2.2 billion investment envisions the construction of a chemical plant with a production capacity of one million tonnes of fertiliser per year. The facility would be equipped with a sulfuric and a phosphoric acid production unit, and a granulation unit. Parallel to that, a new port would be developed, in addition to a washing unit and storage facilities, while new extraction methods would be introduced at the mining site itself.

A recent official OCP document [or download] confirms that work on the new phosphate port and washing plant is currently ongoing. This is also verified by sources on the ground and satellite images. The company states it is “considering” new storage and handling capacities, a new drying plant dedicated to export and reiterates the intent of developing “a fully integrated fertiliser production unit that is expected to start operations by 2023 with a capacity of one million tonnes”.

Photo: APSO

In 2020, OCP also reported to be rolling out a reverse flotation process in Bou Craa to enrich phosphate that is of low phosphorous content, to make it economically more viable and exploitable. This corroborates earlier statements by OCP that it has proceeded to exploit deeper layers of the open-pit mine, which are said to be of lower quality.

Apace with the expansion of Phosboucraa’s operations, a scientific hub focussing on the development of “the southern provinces” baptised Technopole is also being developed in Foum El Oued on a 600 ha plot of land.  

The main company involved in the construction of the port is Archirodon from Netherlands/Greece. The company reported that its work for Phosboucraa take place in “Morocco”, and were to last from 2019 to 2023 on the basis of a contract worth USD 450 million. Archirodon has not responded to WSRW's letters in 2019 and 2022.

In 2016, the king of Morocco inaugurated a series of structuring projects in and near the phosphate port of El Aaiún, from where OCP currently only exports phosphate rock. 

Other companies that are involved in the construction of the new port are:

  • Eccher/DEAL (Italy). Eccher’s subsidiary DEAL was contracted to provide special equipment for the construction of a jetty. It stated that “a new bridge 3,2km long will be built to access the berthing structures.” No response to WSRW letter in 2022.
  • SYSTRA (France). Contracted to make a bridge in relation to the wharf. No response to WSRW letter in 2022.
  • TERRASOL (France). Has worked with Setec Maroc for Jesa Team Morocco, on the foundations for the maritime viaduct allowing access from land to a vast port area of docks. No response to WSRW letter in 2022.
  • Bygging-Uddemann AB (Sweden). Supplied equipment on purchase basis to Archirodon for the purpose of construction of caissons. WSRW and Emmaus Stockholm wrote the company in 2022. The company explained that it had supplied the equipment “with the delivery point Casablanca, Morocco”. WSRW and Emmaus Stockholm asked on 30 March at what point it had become clear to the company that the work was going to be done in Western Sahara. No response.
  • Jan de Nul Group (Belgium). Undertook dredging [or download].
  • Kataskevastiki J. Dimitriou Ltd (Greece). Supplied submarine equipment [or download].
  • Geotehnika SARL (Morocco). Carried out 50 drill holes of 33 meters for Archirodon [or download].
  • COWI A/S (Denmark). Signed a consultancy agreement in 2019 with “a private international contractor” and identified “no legal obstacle” for the project. The company has failed, however, to respond to most of WSRW’s questions.
  • Negri France (France). Carried out 90 geotechnical soundings [or download]. No response to WSRW letter in 2022.
  • Tectone Group (Morocco). Supervision of geotechnical reconnaissance. See website here [or download], here [or download], here [or download], here [or download] and here [or download]

Other recent involvement related to the port or the exports:  

  • Tecalemit Flexibles (France). Supplied hoses for the washing of the rock in 2018. [or download]. The supply was made to Jacobs Engineering. No response to letter in 2022.
  • Mobilis (France). Supplied a system of buoys “to ban navigation from the disused part of the Laayoune Wharf” [or download]. See technical details of the product [or download].
  • DV Offshore (France). Claims to assist in the expedition of the phosphates. No response to WSRW letter in 2022.
  • Daewoo E&C and Korea Port Engineering Corp (South Korea). Allegedly involved in a “ship maneuvering simulation”, and contracted a company Ocean Space for the work in 2017 [or download]. See also here.
  • GM Equipements (Morocco). Technical work on the conveyor belt [or download].
  • DEME Group (Belgium) - Stated that they “have been awarded a capital dredging contract in a joint venture for a new facility in the Port of Laayoune, Morocco [or download]. Work is expected to start mid-2019”. In a letter to WSRW, DEME explains that it never obtained the contract, in the end. WSRW wrote the company twice. Here is the first letter.
Construction of new phosphate port, 2021. 
Construction of new phosphate port, 2021. 


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