9 Jun 2017

Court ruling on seized phosphate shipment delayed

4:44 pm on 9 June 2017

A shipment of phosphate bound for New Zealand faces another week of detention in South Africa after a court ruling on the cargo was delayed.

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 50,000 tonnes of phosphate rock when it was stopped at Port Elizabeth. Photo: Supplied / M.L. Jacobs MarineTraffic.com

The NM Cherry Blossom was carrying 54,000 tonnes of phosphate rock - one eighth of New Zealand's annual needs - when it was stopped at Port Elizabeth en route for Tauranga.

Activists then went to court, saying the fertiliser had been mined illegally in the Western Sahara, a desert territory controlled by Morocco.

Morocco's right to this land is disputed.

The South African judges were expected to deliver their verdict today but they have put off their decision until next Thursday.

New Zealand needs phosphate for its agriculture because the mineral is essential for plant growth.

Morocco and Western Sahara are by far the biggest exporters of the rock.

Western Sahara was a Spanish colony that was taken over by Morocco in the 1970s.

The seized shipment had been contracted by the fertiliser company Ballance Agri Nutrients.

This company has another vessel en route for New Zealand, which is believed to be travelling via Cape Horn to avoid a repetition of the problems in South Africa.

Independence campaigners for Western Sahara have been targeting phosphate shipments after the European Court ruled last year that Western Sahara should not be considered part of Morocco for trade purposes.

Parallel case in Panama

Meanwhile a parallel case has been resolved in Panama.

In that case, a shipment of phosphate was detained while transiting the Panama Canal en route for western Canada.

The vessel was later released after posting a bond.

But in a new development, a court in Panama has thrown out a case brought by the Western Sahara independence campaigners.

The judges ruled their court was not the appropriate venue to resolve a political dispute.

Ballance Agri Nutrients has been watching the Panamanian case for any clues on the outcome of its own case.