Rabat - South Africa is violating UN regulations while trying to bully Moroccan shippers.
Rabat – South Africa is violating UN regulations while trying to bully Moroccan shippers.
A Moroccan shipment of 50,000 tons of phosphate worth USD 5 million is currently being held in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, after the Polisario Front issued a legal complaint that its cargo had been transported illegally from the Western Sahara.
The shipment’s owners, the Moroccan state-run Office Cherifien des Phosphates (OCP), have told the press that the seizure was a “very normal procedure” and a temporary measure pending the review of Polisario’s complaint. But does the separatist group’s maritime court order hold water?
Articles 17, 18, and 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea guarantee all states the right to traverse the territorial waters of other states. This right of “innocent passages” can only be denied if the vessel in question constitutes a threat to the security of the coastal state.
The convention defines the following as threats: the use of force against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of the coastal state; the exercise or practice of weapons; the collecting of information compromising the security of the coastal state; the deployment or landing of any aircraft or military device; the loading or unloading of any commodity, currency, or person against the laws of the coastal state; willful pollution; fishing; research or survey activities; interference with the coastal state’s communication systems; and any other activity not having a direct bearing on passage.
Morocco World News senior analyst Samir Bennis says that, as the Moroccan ship has not carried out any of the activities constituting a threat, the detaining of the ship is a violation of international law.
Further, he says South Africa cannot use Polisaro’s complaint the ship is carrying natural resources that originates from the Western Sahara. “The only entity habilitated to do so is the United Nations, and there is no UN resolution calling on member states to hold any ships carrying Moroccan phosphates originating from the Western Sahara.”
Bennis calls the detaining of the ship a “political move.”
“It is motivated by [South Africa’s] determination to serve the agenda of the Polisario and Algeria and divert the attention of the international community from the core issue of the Western Sahara, which is the necessity that the parties to the conflict strive towards reaching a mutually acceptable political solution to the conflict.”
Bennis draws a connection between the ship’s seizure and the UN Security Council’s recent decision to renew its Mission for Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) for another year, with a resolution “unfavorable to the Polisario.”
The move, then, is an “angry reaction from South Africa at the behest of Algeria and seeks to refocus once again the debate around the question of the alleged exploitation of natural resources by Morocco.”