Western Sahara sovereignty dispute – Phosphate vessel released

Photo: MarineTraffic.com/ ML Jacobs
Photo: MarineTraffic.com/ ML Jacobs

A mutual agreement in a complicated Western Sahara sovereignty dispute has resulted in the 34,349GT and Marshall Islands-flagged Cherry Blossom being released after about a year’s seizure at South Africa’s Port Elizabeth.

Laden with 50,000 tonnes of phosphate rock bound for New Zealand’s Ballance Agri-Nutrients, the bulk carrier was intercepted during a refuelling stop by the Government of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic and Saharawi national liberation movement, the Polisario Front.

The independence campaigners, who contest the “illegal mining and export” of phosphate from an area of Western Sahara which has been under armed occupation by Morocco since 1975, were ultimately determined owners of the fertiliser by a South African Court.

However, despite a sale of the fertiliser being ordered, no bids were received, as Moroccan authorities vowed to pursue legal action against any potential purchasers.

Both parties ultimately agreed the vessel’s charterers, United Kingdom-based Furness Withy, would buy the fertiliser. The firm then sold the consignment for a nominal sum of $US1 to the Moroccan phosphate business, OCP Group, which mines in Western Sahara through its subsidiary, Phosboucraa.

A Google search has revealed the vessel’s last location to be Singapore.

Ballance Agri-Nutrients chief executive Mark Wynne has confirmed his co-operative previously abandoned any financial ownership or financial interest in the cargo and would continue to take its lead in the Western Sahara situation from the United Nations.