Norwatch: Norwegians Shipping Phosphates from Western Sahara

Gearbulk, a company partially owned by the Jebsen family, ships phosphates from Western Sahara on behalf of the Moroccan occupying authorities. Norwatch can reveal that a Jebsen vessel docks Tuesday in a harbour in New Zealand. This trade is contradictory to discouragement from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Published: 18.09 - 2007 14:20Printer version    

By Erik Hagen
June 17th, 2007.

The picture at the right shows the Norwegian-owned vessel inside a closed harbour area at Port of Tauranga, New Zealand. The picture, taken just before the week-end, reveals cranes discharging tons of phosphates from Western Sahara onto waiting trucks on land. From there, it is being shipped on a private road, leading a few hundred meters to a fertilizer company.

According to a source in the phosphate business that Norwatch has talked to, the Norwegian Jebsen vessel carried 35,000 tonnes of phosphates from mines in the occupied areas of Western Sahara. The trade is contrary to discouragement from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and in violation of the wishes of both the Sahrawi government in exile, as well as representatives of the people living under occupation.

For 32 years the majority of the Western Sahara population has lived in refugee camps in the desert in Algeria. Just as long, Morocco’s state phosphate company has continued to exploit the mines of Western Sahara. Little has been known about who actually receives the controversial phosphates. But now Norwatch has shown that a Norwegian company is involved in the shipping.

“The Norwegian company ships stolen goods”, Sidi Mohammed Daddach, the Sahrawi human rights activist and former Rafto Prize winner protests.

The ‘Bulk Saturn’ vessel is owned by the British company Gearbulk. The Bergen-based Jebsen family controls 60% of Gearbulk, while the remaining 40% is owned by Japanese interests.

According to New Zealand harbour registries that Norwatch has been checking, the vessel has already visited the harbours of Whangarei and Tauranga. The vessel arrived in New Zealand as early as 14 June this year and sails Tuesday morning into its third and final harbour, Bluff.  

Bluff, situated on the Southern point of the Pacific nation, is the last destination before the ship leaves New Zealand waters, emptied of phosphates.

Norwegian discouragement
The Jebsen activities are completely in contradiction to the advice of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Ministry discourages any kind of trade with goods from the occupied country.

In 2005, the Norwegian government pension fund divested from the American energy company Kerr-McGee –after having searched for oil in Western Sahara.

The Ministry of Finance at the time stated that oil exploration in Western Sahara was “a particularly serious violation of fundamental ethical norms, e.g. because it may strengthen Morocco’s sovereignty claims and thus contribute to undermining the UN peace process.”

So far, the Ministry of Finance has not assessed on the phosphate trade in the country.

Denies phosphate demonstration
There are many signs that the trade with Western Sahara phosphates is not to the benefit of the Sahrawi people. As late as last Wednesday, Sahrawis tried to demonstrate in front of the office of the Moroccan state phosphate company, OCP, in Western Sahara.  

But the demonstration was never permitted to begin. CODESA reported on Wednesday evening that security police prevented the demonstration from the beginning. Dozens of demonstrators were detained before they entered the place where the protest was supposed to take place.

According to CODESA, all banners and cameras were confiscated. The banners bore slogans against the Moroccan plundering of the country. Several of the detained demonstrators are said to be trade union members from the phosphate mines.

“Profiting from the occupation”
In 2002, Sidi Mohammed Daddach won the Bergen-based Rafto Prize, after having endured 24 years in Moroccan prisons. For 14 years, Daddach sat on death row.

During the award ceremony at the National Scene, he criticised Norwegian search for oil in the occupied area. The appeal to stop Norwegian businesses in Western Sahara was also raised in his meeting with Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik. Now, Daddach, is just as critical of the new phosphate transports.

“After Norway stopped the oil search in Western Sahara, I thought I would see no more of the Norwegian plundering of our country”, Daddach wrote in an email to Norwatch.

“There are absolutely no signs indicating that the Jebsen exports are legal. We, the Sahrawis, earn nothing on this industry and the earnings. Jebsen profits on the occupation”, Daddach said.

“I appeal to Norwegian authorities to do its outmost to stop this export. It cannot be that difficult for a state such as Norway to impose a prohibition against these activities?”

According to a report written by the French organisation France Libertés -Fondation Danielle Mitterrand, the Sahrawis have been systematically marginalised from the phosphate industry in Western Sahara.

In 1968, before Morocco took control over the phosphate mines, practically all 1600 workers in the industry were Sahrawis, according to the report. Today, 1800 of 2000 workers are Moroccan settlers.

The Western Sahara government in exile, residing in refugee camps in Algeria, have also repeatedly protested against the Moroccan plundering of the country. They believe the phosphate trade is financing the occupation and that the foreign businesses support the illegal Moroccan claims on the country.

Yara stopped the import
Two years ago, when it was revealed that the Norwegian fertilizer company Yara had imported phosphates from Western Sahara, the company stopped the imports immediately.

Yara is the world’s biggest fertiliser producer and distributor. Until 2005, Yara had imported 27,000 tonnes of phosphate to Norway, according to the company. This is probably less than what ‘Bulk Saturn’ carried on this week’s shipment to New Zealand.

Norwatch is waiting for comments from the Jebsen group.

[Translated from Norwegian by the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara]




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