Morocco prepares for illegal mineral exploration

Morocco is to dig 2,400 cubic meters of soil in occupied Western Sahara, as part of a mineral exploration.

16 July 2021

Update, 05.09.2021. The tender mentioned in this article was won by a company called Atlas One. The decision can be seen on this ONHYM document [or download]. 

The Moroccan government's National Office of Hydrocarbons and Mines (ONHYM) has issued a tender document on its website revealing a plan to carry out mineral exploration in Western Sahara. 

The tender invites for digging 2,400 cubic meters of soil, in the shape of 800 meters of trenches, each 3 meters deep and one meter wide. 

Trenching is a common mineral exploration technique, through which rock samples are taken at regular intervals - for instance, every 1 meter - for geochemical analysis. The digging is to get to slightly fresher and more representative rock below the excavated sand/gravel cover.

Western Sahara is under foreign illegal occupation by Morocco, and the latter has no right under international law to carry out such exploration work. 

ONHYM refers to the location for the dig as being in ‘Provinces du Sud’ - the 'Southern Provinces'. This is how Morocco's refers to the territory that the UN, the International Court of Justice, the EU Court of Justice, and the African Union reject Morocco's claims to. 

ONHYM itself, together with Canadian company Metalex, is a joint-venture partner in the mineral exploration in the same area of Western Sahara. Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW) wrote yesterday that reports from Metalex suggest that the company is proceeding in its partnership with ONHYM. It is not clear to WSRW if there is any relationship between the trenching programme described in the tender and ONHYM's partnership with Metalex. An ONHYM map from January 2021 reveals that ONHYM has two other projects in the same part of Western Sahara [download].  

According to the geographical coordinates in the tender document, the work will be carried out in one of four ‘proposed zones' in the southern part of occupied Western Sahara, south-southeast of Dakhla, at 95 kilometers from Guerguerat. ONHYM will make the final decision on which exact zone to explore, after obtaining the necessary approvals from the Moroccan army. 

ONHYM wrote in a statement [or download] on 26 January 2021 that its “major mining exploration activities during the period 2021-2023 will revolve around the most promising areas for precious metals, base metals and industrial rocks and minerals, in particular in the Southern Provinces, Anti Atlas, Haut Atlas and Oriental”. 

In January 2020, ONHYM published ‘promotional flyers’ for mineral exploration in six locations in the same area. The documents summarise the drilling history, geological situation, licence possibilities and infrastructure on each place. Some also make reference to the airborne study made by Canadian company Sander Geophysical which WSRW has mentioned earlier. The six locations are referred to by ONHYM as “projects in promotion 2021”.

Find the six flyers here: 
Twihinate and Lamgala [or download], (REE, Nb, FE, U)
Glibat Lafhouda, Drag, Al Farnan [or download], (Nb, Ta, REE, U, Fe).
Lahjeyra [or download], (REE, Nb, Fe, Mo, Au, V)
Twirga Amwaga [or download], (PGA Mineralisations)
Chenna [or download], (Au, Cu)
Aghracha Awhifrite Awark Lamliyssa [or download], (U, REE)

In addition, ONHYM has published an overview of geochemical surveys in Western Sahara [the ONHYM link no longer active, but the file can be downloaded in cached version]

The tender document, which was signed on 26 April 2021, can be found on ONHYM's website [or download].

From the published ONHYM tender document. 

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