Russian plunder vessel pollutes Canary-Western Sahara strait

A Russian vessel that has been fishing illegally in occupied Western Sahara, sank a forthnight ago. The vessel is still leaking fuel oil in the area between the Canary Islands and Western Sahara.
Published: 28.04 - 2015 09:32Printer version    
Photo: Oleg Naydenov fishing offshore Dakhla, Western Sahara, 2013. Click on photo for high resolution.

The Oleg Naydenov sank after fire broke out on board of the ship on 11 April, as the vessel was bunkering in a port of the Canary Islands. The Spanish government then towed the vessel out into the ocean. The vessel carried approximately 1,400 tonnes of fuel oil, corresponding to around 2 million liters. That fuel has since been leaking into the waters of the Atlantic Ocean between the Canary Islands and Western Sahara.

The Oleg Naydenov is a large floating factory that had been active in the waters of occupied Western Sahara for the last couple of years, following a fisheries agreement between Morocco and Russia that failed to specify that Western Sahara is not part of Morocco. Though the Agreement states that Russian vessels can fish in the Moroccan Exclusive Economic Zone, which does not include the waters of Western Sahara, all Russian trawlers have been fishing exclusively off Western Sahara - Africa's last colony that has been largely occupied by Morocco since 1975.

WSRW has not yet seen any reports on the potential impact of the disaster on the Western Saharan territorial waters, which is illustrative of the lack of voice that the Saharawis have in environmental protection matters while under ooccupation.

It seems that most of the leaked fuel will end up on the Canary Islands. WWF reports oil approaching the beaches of Tenerife, while the Spanish government already started scraping thick fuel of the beaches of Gran Canaria late last week. Greenpeace reports about the affected sealife, such as oil-covered birds and turtles, and a bottlenose dolphin.

The Mauritanian government sent out a press release stating that no oil had ended up in the EEZ of Mauritania.

The Oleg Naydenov was known for its dodgy and flat-out illegal endeavours in African waters. In 2012, Greenpeace protested against the vessel's illegal fishing in Gambian waters. In December 2013, the vessel was arrested by the Senegalese government for illegal fishing in prohibited areas.

WSRW last year wrote about the concerns that possible oil spills from the occupied territory would follow ocean currents to the Canary Islands. The lack of settlement of the occupation conflict renders unclear who is to tidy up environmental damages.




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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