The owner of the MV Harrier Explorer, the Norwegian company SeaBird Exploration Plc, has been contracted for the operation in November, and has received approximately US $ 2 million to survey a minimum of 2,000 kilometers in the area. The operation will take an estimated 20 days to complete and has kicked off about 10 days ago.
The story made headlines in one of Norway's biggest newspapers, Dagbladet, today. Former Legal Counsel of the UN, Mr. Hans Corell, is highly critical to the operation. He stated to Dagbladet that seismic studies in Western Sahara would be in violation of international law, as described in the Legal Opinion he wrote for the UN Security Council in 2002. He stated to the newspaper that the "UN Security Council should act more resolutely on the issue".
"SeaBird's actions are completely contrary to international law", says WSRW's Chairman Erik Hagen in the paper, "the company is playing a crucial role in facilitating illegal oil production in the areas of Western Sahara that Morocco so brutally occupies".
Morocco invaded Western Sahara in 1975 and continues to occupy three quarters of the territory to this very day. The United Nations consider Western Sahara to be a colony, and have labelled economic activities in the territory to be illegal if they do not respect the wishes and the interests of the people of Western Sahara, the Saharawis.
SeaBird's CEO Dag Reynolds, has not yet commented to Dagbladet.
The above map shows the position of the Harrier Explorer in the early hours of 30 November 2014.
According to IHS, the areas that are being surveyed are the so-called Foum Ognit I-IV Blocks, held by New Age 56.25%, Glencore18.75% and Moroccan state oil agency ONHYM 25%. The map below details the location of the Blocks under revision (blue area). However, the actual location of the vessel indicates that it is currently a few miles to the north of the Glencore block. WSRW estimates that it is likely that the vessel does indeed work for Glencore on the Foum Ognit.
In October this year, WSRW revealed that Glencore had an 18,75% interest in the Foum Ognit blocks.
Norway-based SeaBird is a global provider of marine acquisition for 2D/3D and 4D seismic data, and associated products and services to the oil and gas industry. SeaBird is listed on the Oslo Stock Exchange.
This is the fourth Norwegian seismic involvement in Western Sahara. All the 3 previous companies involved have abandoned such projects due to the controversies involved:
"TGS-NOPEC appreciates the complexity of the political issues in the area and respects the views stated by Norwegian authorities. As a result, the Company has decided not to undertake any new projects in Western Sahara without a change in political developments. Further, the Company is committed to improve its procedures for risk evaluation on potential projects in disputed areas of the world and will actively seek advice from Norwegian authorities when in doubt. TGS-NOPEC has maintained a constructive dialogue with a number of its large Norwegian institutional shareholders including Folketrygdfondet and Storebrand throughout this process.", TGS Nopec press release, 18.03.2003.
"Fugro-Geoteam has decided to abstain from any further involvement in Western sahara until the political situation has been resolved". Fugro-Geoteam, letter 23.04.2014, as no consultation with the people of the territory had taken place, according to the company.
"We do not want to take assignments in Western Sahara. I have no problem to see, now in retrospect, that it might have been a bad idea to take on this assignment". Spectrum ASA, 2011.
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.
It's not easy keeping up with all the different legal proceedings relating to Western Sahara. For the sake of clarity, here's an overview of the five different cases at the Court of Justice of the European Union.