FUGRO looks set to become the second seismic contractor to eat humble pie over involvement in exploration activity off the disputed territory of Western Sahara.
Despite protests by support groups and the Sahrawi government in exile, Fugro Survey (Svitzer) proceeded to complete a three-month job this June for Kerr-McGee under a reconnaissance licence issued by the Moroccan state oil and mining company ONHYM.
The UN legal office had earlier opined that exploration was acceptable as long as no drilling took place and companies took account of the interests of indigenous people, but the wording is considered ambiguous.
TGS-Nopec's reputation and share price took a hit when it undertook surveys off Western Sahara, with management eventually agreeing that it would not get involved again in this area until the political situation was resolved. Svitzer's latest data is understood to be in the hands of Kerr-McGee, the US company that holds the Boujdour deep-water permit next to Total. Norway-based Fugro Geoteam, sources say, had also quietly operated off Dakhla during the summer of 2002, and is believed to have conducted an airborne survey without attracting the attention of activists.
For now, Svitzer executives have been instructed neither to confirm nor deny any exploration activity took place at all. However, all Fugro subsidiaries are understood to have since been told to contact the group's Leidschendam headquarters in the Netherlands if any unit is contemplating work in Western Sahara.
An unpublicised meeting was allegedly held last weekend in Leidschendam between European representatives of the International Coalition for the Protection of Natural Resources in Western Sahara and Fugro president Gert-Jan Kramer and chief finanical officer Andre Jonkman.
Activist sources said Fugro admitted that if it had properly understood the ethical and political complexities of the conflict it would not have considered undertaking the job.
Fugro is said to have given assurances that it would carefully consider the political and ethical aspects of possible future involvement in the area, in the light of arguments presented by the coalition, which sees the provision of data to Kerr McGee as supporting illegal exploration and production by Morocco as the occupying power.
Cynics argue that Fugro's initiative in establishing dialogue is like locking the stable door after the horse has bolted as the two jobs are now complete and money banked.
Other companies in the firing line include Wessex Exploration, which has a mainly onshore deal with Rabat, and Robertson Research International, which claims not to be involved in Western Sahara at present.
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.
Leading activists from Western Sahara are condemned to sentences ranging from 20 years to life imprisonment in connection to a mass protest in 2010 denouncing the Saharawi people’s social and economic marginalization in their occupied land; the Gdeim Izik protest camp.
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