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July 24, 2017 | by  | in News |
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NM Cherry Blossom detained for transporting stolen goods

The NM Cherry Blossom has been detained in Port Elizabeth since May 1, subject to a South African High Court case. It has a cargo of illegally mined phosphate rock from Western Sahara, destined for Tauranga and valued at approximately $7 million.

The United Nations recognises Western Sahara as non self-governing territory. Morocco controls 80% of the region through military presence, and to date all attempts to resolve the issue of sovereignty have been unsuccessful.

The Polisario Front, a Western Sahara liberation movement, had claimed that the OCP Group, a Moroccan state-owned company, were mining without express consent. The UN, in a 2017 Security Council report, expressed its concerns over Morocco’s failure to adopt “necessary measures to consult the people of Western Sahara on the exploitation of their natural resources.”

The cargo had been detained after an application by Sahrawi authorities to the South African Court. An interim detainment order was confirmed in the High Court on June 15, where it was noted that the Sahrawi government maintained ownership until proven otherwise.

The matter was set to progress to trial over ownership of the shipment, however the OCP dropped its defence of the case on July 13.

The detained phosphate rock, a valuable commodity in the production process of agricultural grade phosphates, was intended for New Zealand fertiliser manufacturer and distributer, Ballance Agri-Nutrients. Ballance, and Ravensdown, another farming co-operative, imported 369,000 metric tonnes of phosphate rock in 2016, making New Zealand the second biggest importer from the occupied region.

Salient reached out to Ballance and Ravensdown for comment, but both failed to respond. Mark Wynne, Ballance’s chief executive, stated in an interview with RNZ, “our little phosphate shipment is just a very small part of this great big jigsaw.”

Mike Barton, from Western Sahara Campaign NZ, told Salient that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) has estimated that “about 90% of phosphate [imported into New Zealand] comes from Bou Craa,” an area occupied by Morocco.

OCP’s claim to be mining on behalf of the Sahrawi people has been contested by the Sahrawi government. Kamal Fadel, Sahrawi representative for Australia and New Zealand, released a statement suggesting Bou Craa beneficiaries “are not the people of the territory, but, more likely, Moroccan settlers.”

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