Cape Town. Picture: THINKSTOCK
Cape Town. Picture: THINKSTOCK

An organisation working to preserve the resources of occupied Western Sahara has asked the Port of Cape Town to detain a vessel that is due to anchor  in Cape Town on Saturday.

The vessel is alleged to contain about 5‚500 tons of fish‚ caught in the exclusive economic zone waters of occupied Western Sahara between December 2018  and early 2019.

The Western Sahara Resource Watch has called for the action, relying on a precedent set by the high court in Port Elizabeth in June 2017 and February 2018‚ after the detention of the vessel NM Cherry Blossom‚ which carried phosphate rock illegally exported from the Western Sahara when it entered Port Elizabeth harbour in May 2017. The phosphate was destined for a company in New Zealand.

The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) is a partially recognised state‚ and insists it has sovereignty over the Western Sahara‚ also claimed by Morocco.

In June 2017‚ the high court concluded that the SADR had a prima facie claim to ownership of the cargo and directed that the claim could proceed to trial on the merits. In an order issued in February 2018 ‚ the high court concluded that the SADR “is the owner of the whole of the cargo of phosphate presently laden on the motor vessel NM Cherry Blossom”.

It also held that ownership of the phosphate had never “lawfully vested” in the Moroccan state-owned companies OCP SA and Phosphates de Boucraa SA “and they were‚ and are‚ not entitled to sell the phosphate” to New Zealand company Ballance Agri-Nutrients.

In its letter to the Port of Cape Town on Wednesday‚ the Western Sahara Resource Watch requested the harbour master to detain the vessel and to examine the cargo aboard.

“Between 23 December 2018 and 4 January 2019‚ the Green Glacier was observed loading fish transferred from trawlers that had been caught in the exclusive economic zone waters of occupied Western Sahara‚” the organisation said.

The organisation said the vessel had departed for Cape Town on January 17. “We estimate that the Green Glacier may have approximately 5,500 tons of frozen fish aboard.”

It said the SADR  routinely protests against unauthorised fishing in its exclusive economic zone area.

“There is no record of any Sahrawi consent to the catch and export of the fish aboard the Green Glacier. And‚ in the circumstances‚ the export of a resource from a territory under illegal armed occupation is a crime‚ the war crime of pillage.”

The organisation asked the Cape Town harbour master‚ Captain Alex Miya‚ to obtain the document of the vessel cargo’s origins and determine whether such cargo had been lawfully carried out of occupied Western Sahara into SA.

“If the cargo aboard the vessel has‚ in fact‚ originated from Western Sahara‚ we ask that it be detained and that documents obtained be provided to us.

“The act of detaining the vessel and cargo would be reported to police authorities and‚ we recommend‚ SA’s foreign ministry for further action.”