Upstream Online: Wessex in firing line over Western Sahara role, 2004
Activists campaigning against what they dub premature exploration of the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara are preparing to turn up the heat on UK minnnow Wessex Exploration, writes Barry Morgan. Upstream, 28 May 2004.
Activists campaigning against what they dub premature exploration of the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara are preparing to turn up the heat on UK minnnow Wessex Exploration, writes Barry Morgan
Wessex is in the spotlight as it has won a reconnaissance licence to investigate the territory's oil and gas potential and the company recently landed rights to examine data relating to the Aaiun basin.
"It cannot be concluded that a working petroleum system has been proven for Aaiun so Wessex is currently undertaking a comprehensive technical analysis of the basin in order to facilitate further hydrocarbon exploration in this very underexplored area," the company said.
Wessex signed the deal with Rabat and the maps presented on its website clearly support Morocco's claim to territorial sovereignty, despite the United Nations legal office's insistence in 2002 that profit from exploration and production can only be derived when benefit accures to the territory's indigenous population.
Wessex has recently been deluged with email protests, mostly from Spain, while the Norwegian, UK and Dutch campaign organisations acting in support of Western Sahara's claim to independence have this week been trying to set up a meeting with Wessex managing director Frederik Dekker to press their case.
"If Wessex continues its activities in disregard of the rights of the Saharawi people, the company will be seen as being complicit in the illegal occupation of Western Sahara," said Laura Smith of the Western Sahara Campaign UK.
"If Wessex is concerned for its reputation it would be wise to either seek discussion with the Polisario Front or withdraw from its contract with the Moroccans."
Also in the firing line is Dutch combine Fugro, which has agreed to shoot additional seismic for Kerr-McGee over its Boujdour permit in the southern reaches off Western Sahara.
In 2003, Norwegian seismic company TGS-Nopec was contracted to carry out 2D seismic offshore but the weight of public pressure led to shareholder divestment and government disapproval, forcing the company to stop its involvement.
A communique from the Western Sahara Campaign urged Wessex to negotiate an arrangement with the exiled Sahrawi political organisation, the Polisario Front, or else be "seen as complicit in the illegal occupation of the Western Sahara by Morocco".
Morocco occupies the major part of its neighbouring country, Western Sahara. Entering into business deals with Moroccan companies or authorities in the occupied territories gives an impression of political legitimacy to the occupation. It also gives job opportunities to Moroccan settlers and income to the Moroccan government. Western Sahara Resource Watch demands foreign companies leave Western Sahara until a solution to the conflict is found.
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