NZ-bound $5m phosphate shipment held up in South Africa over political squabble

Mohamed al Wali, 65, a Polisario fighter, stands next to a Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic flag at a forward base on ...
ZOHRA BENSEMRA

Mohamed al Wali, 65, a Polisario fighter, stands next to a Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic flag at a forward base on the outskirts of Tifariti, Western Sahara. The Polisario Front is holding up phosphate headed for New Zealand.

A US$5 million phosphate shipment from Morocco destined for New Zealand has been held up in a South African port by a political dispute.

Fertiliser company Ballance Nutrients said it had been importing phosphate from Morocco for more than 30 years, and this was the first time a shipment had been halted.

The Marshall Island-flagged NM Cherry Blossom, carrying 55,000 tonnes of phosphate, has been held in Port Elizabeth by a civil maritime court order from the indigenous Polisario Front, which has been at odds with Morocco over control of the Western Sahara since the 1970s.

A mountain of phosphate in a New Zealand warehouse.

A mountain of phosphate in a New Zealand warehouse.

The movement complained that the shipment had been transported unlawfully from the disputed territory of the Western Sahara.

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The seizure may be a test for the Polisario's use of a European court decision last year that ruled Western Sahara should not be considered part of the Moroccan kingdom in EU and Moroccan deals.

Ballance Agri-Nutrients chief executive, Mark Wynne.
CHRISTEL YARDLEY/FAIRFAX NZ

Ballance Agri-Nutrients chief executive, Mark Wynne.

Morocco has 75 per cent of the world's rock phosphate reserves.

Ballance chief executive Mark Wynne said the co-operative had sufficient supplies in New Zealand for the present.

"We're not fully dependent on one source, we also bring it in from China and South Africa."

Super phosphate is made using granules from the different sources and blending them together.

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Wynne said he was "very conscious" of the geo-political issues in the region, and had visited state-run OPC last year, the agency which is charged with developing the phosphate resource.

"When I was there I looked into the social issues, especially education and health, and satisfied myself with what was happening."

The United Nations had been trying to reach a resolution for many years. Morocco wants the region to have autonomy within Moroccan sovereignty while Polisario has called for a referendum on self-determination, including on the question of independence. 

Tensions flared last year when UN peacekeepers had to step in between Moroccan forces and Polisario brigades in the buffer zone near the Mauritania border.

An OCP representative told Reuters it expected the shipment would be released once the facts of the case were presented to the South African court.

Polisario chief negotiator Mohamed Khadad said the natural resources of the Western Sahara could not be exploited without the consent of the people of the Western Sahara.

Wynne said over many years Ballance had imported more than 100 shipments without a problem.

 - Stuff

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