Court to announce legality of African phosphate seizure

  • 10/06/2017
Phosphate from mines like this in Morocco are New Zealand's main source.
Phosphate from mines like this in Morocco are New Zealand's main source. Photo credit: Getty

A boat carrying a $7 million fertiliser shipment bound for New Zealand is still stuck in a South African port as a court decides on the legality of its shipment.

A judge has reserved his decision until late Thursday (NZ time).

"We will have a lot more clarity then," a spokesman for Ballance Agri-Nutrients told NZ Newswire on Saturday.

The NM Cherry Blossom, carrying 50,000 tonnes of phosphate rock, was stopped at Port Elizabeth in May amid claims its cargo was illegally taken.

The mineral comes from Laayoune, in the Moroccan-controlled part of Western Sahara which has been under dispute since 1975 when war broke out between Morocco and the Polisario movement fighting for the Sahrawi people.

A court hearing over its seized cargo was held last month and the boat is still being held pending a verdict.

"He could rule any number of things but we are confident after a ship in Panama (also carrying phosphate) was released this week," the Ballance spokesman said.

The judges in the Panama decided their court was not the appropriate venue to resolve a political dispute.

The legal ruling should test Polisario's use of a European court ruling last year that said Western Sahara should not be considered part of Morocco in European Union and Moroccan deals, Reuters has reported.

Morocco's government has also said it does not expect Polisario's legal challenge will succeed.

Ballance chief executive Mark Wynne earlier told NZ Newswire the company was working on contingency plans to ensure farmers would still get their fertiliser in time for spring.

The NM Cherry blossom was one of about four annual shipments of phosphate rock which it blends to make fertiliser.

It had been due in New Zealand at the end of May.

Mr Wynne said it was the first time a shipment had been seized and that the company was comfortable with the legality and ethics of its phosphate sourcing.