19 May 2017

Seized phosphate shipment remains in limbo

2:35 pm on 19 May 2017

A shipment of phosphate bound for New Zealand looks set to be detained in South Africa for at least another three weeks.

The NM Cherry Blossom was carrying 50,000 tonnes of phosphate rock when it  was stopped at Port Elizabeth.

The NM Cherry Blossom was carrying 54,000 tonnes of phosphate rock when it was stopped at Port Elizabeth. Photo: Supplied / M.L. Jacobs MarineTraffic.com

The 54,000 tonne shipment was seized in South Africa earlier this month after complaints it was mined illegally in the Western Sahara, a desert territory controlled by Morocco.

Morocco's right to this land is disputed.

Two independence movements for Western Sahara took the case to court in Port Elizabeth yesterday claiming ownership of the shipment.

The judges reserved their decision and and extended the hold on the vessel until 9 June.

The phosphate was bought by New Zealand fertiliser co-operative company Ballance Agri-Nutrients and represents about one eighth of this country's annual needs.

A second shipment has since been detained in Panama en route to Canada.

This follows up threats made earlier by independence campaigners to target all shipments of phosphate out of Western Sahara.

They cite a ruling by the European Court last year that Western Sahara should not be considered part of Morocco for trade purposes.

Federated Farmers have expressed worries about what this dispute means for New Zealand which needs 400,0000 tonnes of phosphate each year.

Phosphate is essential for plant growth in the agriculture sector.