Cherry Blossom vessel, loaded with 55,000 tons of Moroccan phosphates, which has been illegally seized by South African authorities since May 1, last year, has just left the South African territorial waters and her cargo has been returned to its legitimate owner, Morocco’s phosphates company, OCP.
It all started last May, when a South African judge ordered the ship, bound for New Zealand, to remain held in Port Elizabeth pending a full trial on the matter after the Algeria-backed Polisario front challenged the legality of the transaction (between OCP and New Zealand). The separatist front sought to use the justice system of its South African ally to undermine Morocco’s economic interests.
OCP group and its Sahara subsidiary, Phosboucraâ, had refused to participate in “mock” legal proceedings and decried the biased decision of the South African justice to maintain the ship held in Port Elizabeth. OCP had made it clear that the South African judiciary has no legitimacy to rule on the core of the case and that South African courts are not qualified and have no jurisdiction to rule on the use of natural resources in the Sahara region.
This is an act of “political piracy committed under judicial cover,” the OCP had deplored, denouncing South Africa’s blatant interference in issues relating to Morocco’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The South African court had then pronounced a judgment by default, declaring that the cargo belonged to the Polisario.
Yet, eight months after the ruling, and as the Polisario failed to find a purchaser of the phosphates cargo, the ship-owner filed a solicitation seeking a judicial sale of the shipment in order to release his ship. Again, the subsequent judicial sale was unsuccessful, as no operator was willing to be accomplice in this serious breach to the basic principles of the freedom of international trade.
It was in this context and in order to release Cherry Blossom, that the ship-owner purchased the cargo, paying only the adjudicator’s legal fees, and returned it to its rightful owner, Phosboucraa, for a symbolic dollar.
Actually, Phosboucraa, which conducts its activities in full compliance with international law, is a key player in the economic, industrial and human development of the Sahara region. The company employs around 2,200 people, 76% of whom are from the local population, and invests huge amounts in infrastructures promotion and environment protection.
“Today, after vain attempts to sell the cargo, the refusal of all potential buyers to purchase the seized shipment of phosphates is a clear and irrefutable proof that the ruling of the Port Elizabeth Court declaring the Polisario owner of the shipment is unlawful,” said Otmane Bennani-Smires, Executive Vice-President of OCP Group.
The outcome of the Cherry Blossom case deals a blow to the Polisario and its Algerian mentors and confirms, if need be, that the separatist front is not eligible to plea or claim to represent the population in the Sahara who have their own legitimate elected bodies.