ALGIERS May 18 Panama authorities have detained
a Moroccan phosphate shipment from the disputed territory of
Western Sahara after the Polisario independence movement claimed
the cargo had been transported illegally, Polisario and
officials said on Thursday.
The detention of the vessel carrying phosphate rock cargo
from Morocco's OCP for Canada's Agrium is the second tanker
stopped this month by a Polisario legal challenge, a new tactic
the independence movement has been using in its conflict with
Western Sahara has been disputed since 1975, when Morocco
claimed it as part of the kingdom and the Polisario fought a
guerrilla war for the Sahrawi people's independence. A 1991
ceasefire split the region in two between what Morocco calls its
southern provinces and an area controlled by Polisario.
The two sides have been locked in diplomatic battles since
the U.N.-backed ceasefire over how to decide on the region's
self-determination, but repeated U.N. negotiations have failed
to reach a deal.
The Danish charter vessel Ultra Innovation, carrying 55,000
tonnes of phosphate rock from Morocco's OCP through Panama to
Port of Vancouver for Agrium, was held on Wednesday
night under a maritime court order, Polisario said.
By seeking the seizure of the two phosphate vessels,
Polisario is putting to the test a European court ruling last
year that Western Sahara should not be considered part of the
Moroccan kingdom in EU and Moroccan deals.
"We are optimistic this second recourse to applying the law
to bring an end to the blatant theft of a resource belonging to
a people under occupation will demonstrate our resolve,"
Polisario chief negotiator Mohamed Khadad said.
A sparsely populated stretch of desert bordering the
Atlantic Ocean, Western Sahara has rich fishing grounds as well
as phosphate. A heavily mined earth wall separates
Moroccan-controlled territory and Polisario-held areas.
Morocco's OCP, or Office Cherifien de Phosphate (OCP), is
the world's leading phosphate exporter and operates in the
Moroccan-held areas. It did not return several calls and
messages seeking comment on the Panama challenge.
Agrium said in a statement that it was aware of the detained
phosphate rock shipment in Panama.
"We are currently working with our charter company
(Ultrabulk) to work through the situation. At this time we don’t
anticipate any production interruptions at our facility in
Alberta (Redwater)," the company said.
A Panama maritime authority source confirmed the vessel was
being held in port in Panama by a judicial investigation.
Earlier in the month, the Marshall Island-flagged NM Cherry
Blossom, also carrying phosphate from Laayoune in the Moroccan
part of the disputed territory for OCP, was detained in South
Africa's Port Elizabeth under a civil maritime court order.
On Thursday, the South African court reserved a judgement on
the case and extended the hold on the vessel to 9 June.
The United Nations Security Council has called for fresh
negotiations between Morocco and the Polisario, which runs its
self-declared Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic or SADR.
Talks have failed for years to end the dispute. Morocco
wants the region to have autonomy within Moroccan sovereignty.
Polisario wants to hold a referendum on self-determination,
including on the question of independence.
(Additional reporting by Wendell Roelf in Cape Town and Elida
Moreno in Panama City; Editing by Hugh Lawson)