Amidst an uproar over South Africa’s detention of a Moroccan shipment of 50,000 tons of phosphate worth USD 5 million in Port Elizabeth on Wednesday, Moroccan government has announced that “Morocco is in a proper legal situation.”
“Morocco is in a legal position. The maneuvers of [Morocco’s] rivals will fail,” said Mustapha Khalfi, the Minister in charge of Relations with Parliament and Civil Society and Spokesperson of government, in a press conference held on Thursday.
“The natural resources of the Moroccan Sahara are invested in the framework of international law and the requirements of national sovereignty,” Khalfi added.
The legality of the detention has been called into question. According to Samir Bennis, co-founder and senior political analyst of Morocco World News, articles 17, 18, and 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea guarantee all states the right to traverse the territorial waters of other states. This right of “innocent passages” can only be denied if the vessel in question constitutes a threat to the security of the coastal state, but so far no threat has been identified.
The ship was detained after South Africa and the Algeria-backed Polisario Front complained that its cargo had been transported illegally from the Western Sahara.
The NM Cherry Blossom, carrying the shipment for the OCP, was detained by a civil maritime order in Port Elizabeth, where it had stopped to re-fuel. Phosphate importers in New Zealand said that this is the first seizure of Moroccan shipments they had experienced in 30 years.
The shipment’s owners, the Moroccan state-run Office Cherifien des Phosphates (OCP), have told the press that the seizure was a “very normal procedure” and a temporary measure pending the review of Polisario’s complaint.
Polisario’s provocation comes after announcing its withdrawal last week from the Guerguerat buffer zone, where its militias had violated the 1991 UN ceasefire agreement by setting up illegal checkpoints to harass and threaten Moroccan truckers.
The separatist force declared it would “redeploy” its forces the day before the UN Security Council voted to extend its Mission for Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) for another year, with conditions favoring Morocco.