South African court rules trial to be held over NZ Ballance phosphate shipment

The bulk carrier Cherry Blossom held in South Africa over the disputed Western Sahara region.

The bulk carrier Cherry Blossom held in South Africa over the disputed Western Sahara region.

A South African court has ruled a US$5 million (NZ$6.9 million) shipment of phosphate fertiliser bound for New Zealand must remain in Port Elizabeth until a trial determines who owns it.

Fertiliser company Ballance Agri-Nutrients has been awaiting the 54,000 tonne cargo since early May when it was detained in Port Elizabeth by an injunction taken out by activists from the Western Sahara independence movement.

The phosphate has been mined in a region disputed between Morocco and the independence movement.

"We were looking for clarity from the court decision but we're disappointed because we didn't get that. The court has determined that because of the complexity of the issue, it will go to trial," Ballance chief executive Mark Wynne said.

READ MORE: NZ fertiliser, world politics - Ballance phosphate still stranded in South Africa
 

The hearing on Thursday had determined South Africa was a jurisdiction that could hear the case. It would go to a higher court but no date has been set for a hearing.

Ballance says there will not be a shortage of fertiliser because of the hold up of the ship in South Africa.

Ballance says there will not be a shortage of fertiliser because of the hold up of the ship in South Africa.

Wynne said he had been hoping the case would have had a similar result to one earlier this month in Panama, where a phosphate shipment from the disputed region bound for Canada had been also detained.

Panama is one of about a dozen countries which recognises the Western Sahara.

"They heard the case and dismissed it entirely as political. We were hopeful for a similar outcome because we truly believe it is a geo-political issue between Algeria and Morocco," Wynne said.

"The United Nations Security Council is trying to resolve it and we think that's the best place for it to be resolved."

The Port Elizabeth court said its judgement was clear: "Morocco has no claim to sovereignty over Western Sahara. Its claim as result of its occupation of the territory is incompatible with the status of Western Sahara as a non-self-governing territory. Furthermore, it acquired control of the territory by force. This, as a means of acquiring sovereignty, is contrary to customary international law."

Meanwhile Ballance has since ordered up another shipment of phosphate. The vessel Common Spirit left Morocco on May 17, and is set to arrive in Tauranga on June 25.

Wynne said this would insure there were sufficient supplies in the country in spring.

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The phosphate on board the vessel Cherry Blossom detained in South Africa is still legally owned by the Moroccan state agency OCP. Ballance does not have to pay for it until it is delivered in New Zealand, Wynne said.

"This is a historic moment for the Saharawi people and we hope the final judgment will contribute to the protection of our natural resources which we need to rebuild our country and provide a dignified life for our people after decades of conflict, exile and suffering", the representative of the liberation movement Polisario in Australia, Kamal Fadel, said in a statement.

 - Stuff

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