Business 8.5.2018 12:20 pm

OCP reclaims phosphate cargo after S Africa legal dispute

Morocco’s phosphate industry giant OCP on Tuesday announced it had recovered a 55,000-tonnes cargo “for a symbolic one dollar” after a legal dispute with South Africa.

Otmane Bennani Smires, the company’s legal director, told AFP the deal had been reached more than a year after South Africa seized the cargo while en route to New Zealand.

The shipment of phosphate left the city of Laayoune in Western Sahara — a former Spanish colony controlled by Morocco where the Polisario Front group is fighting for independence — and was detained by authorities in Port Elizabeth.

South Africa supports independence for Western Sahara and in February a court in Port Elizabeth ruled the cargo could be auctioned following a petition from the Polisario.

The month-long auction started on March 19 but failed to receive any bids, according to OCP.

“No buyer has legitimised the sale, nor the grounds that the court gave to the Polisario,” Smires said.

The operators of the Cherry Blossom vessel covered the costs of the auction and then returned to cargo to OCP “for a symbolic one dollar”, the company said in a statement.

OCP dubbed the auction a “clear breach of basic principles of domestic and international law” which “threatens the freedom and security of international commerce”.

The Polisario claimed the phosphate on grounds that it was extracted in Western Saharan territory, allegedly in contravention of international principles.

In recent months the group has launched a series of legal challenges seeking to block the export of resources from Western Sahara.

Rabat considers the region to be an integral part of Morocco and has proposed autonomy under its governance, but the Polisario demands an independence referendum.

Morocco and the Polisario fought for control of Western Sahara from 1975 to 1991, when Rabat took over the desert territory before a UN-brokered ceasefire.

 

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