25 Feb 2018

Court rules detained phosphate may be sold

10:09 am on 25 February 2018

A shipment of phosphate that was bound for New Zealand - but held up in South Africa for almost 10 months - will likely be sold following a court ruling.

The NM Cherry Blossom was carrying 50,000 tonnes of phosphate rock when it  was stopped at Port Elizabeth.

The NM Cherry Blossom was carrying 55,000 tonnes of phosphate rock when it was stopped at Port Elizabeth. Photo: Supplied / M.L. Jacobs MarineTraffic.com

The 55,000 tonne shipment was detained in Port Elizabeth in May last year, after complaints it was mined illegally in Western Sahara, a disputed desert territory controlled by Morocco.

The Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) - the state proclaimed by the Polisario independence movement in Western Sahara - went to court in South Africa to claim ownership of the shipment.

The High Court of South Africa has now ruled that SADR is the owner of the whole cargo of phosphate.

In a statement, SADR said because it was impractical to return the phosphate to Western Sahara, it was anticipated that it would be sold.

The Moroccan company that sold the phosphate had earlier pulled out of the court case.

The phosphate was originally bought by the New Zealand fertiliser co-operative company, Ballance Agri-Nutrients.

It was previously reported that the shipment represented about one-eighth of this country's annual needs.

Subsequent shipments of phosphate to New Zealand were re-routed via Cape Horn to avoid South African jurisdiction.

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