Seized Moroccan phosphate ship to stay in South Africa, court rules

Thu Jun 15, 2017 1:47pm GMT

By Wendell Roelf

CAPE TOWN, June 15 (Reuters) - A South African court ruled on Thursday that a seized ship carrying a Moroccan cargo of phosphate from the disputed Western Sahara should remain in port until the case goes to trial or security is posted, a lawyer for the Polisario independence movement said.

The Polisario Front alleges the 50,000 tonne shipment en route to New Zealand was illegally taken from Western Sahara territory and went to court to have the cargo seized.

The case is a test of Polisario's new legal tactic in its long-running conflict with Morocco over Western Sahara, a disputed territory where the two sides fought a war until a 1991 ceasefire and where U.N. talks have failed to reach an accord.

The Marshall Island-flagged NM Cherry Blossom was detained under a civil maritime court order in South Africa's Port Elizabeth last month as part of Polisario's attempt to take advantage of a European court ruling last year that Western Sahara should not be considered part of Morocco in EU and Moroccan deals.

The ship was carrying 50,000 tonnes of phosphate to New Zealand from Laayoune in the Moroccan-controlled part of the disputed territory for Morocco's OCP phosphate export company.

"It will take some months before any trial can be heard," said Andre Bowley, lawyer for the Polisario Front in South Africa.

"For the foreseeable future the ship remains exactly where it is until our court case is determined or someone puts up security," he told Reuters of the cargo valued at around $5 million.

While the case must still go to trial, Polisario called the initial court decision a victory.   Continued...

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