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NZ-bound phosphate stays in South Africa

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 15/06/2017

A shipment of phosphate bound for New Zealand must stay in South Africa until an argument over its legality is sorted out in court.

The NM Cherry Blossom, carrying 50,000 tonnes of phosphate rock worth about $7 million for Tauranga's Ballance Agri-Nutrients, was stopped at Port Elizabeth in May.

The mineral comes from Laayoune, in the Moroccan-controlled part of Western Sahara which has been under dispute since 1975, when war broke out between Morocco and the Polisario movement fighting for the Sahrawi people.

On Thursday, the Port Elizabeth High Court said the core of the case was whether the Polisario movement had made a prima facie case that it owned the phosphate, Reuters reports.

It ordered that the five respondents, including the owner of the ship, Ballance and Morocco's OCP phosphate company, were restrained from removing the cargo.

The case is a test of Polisario's new legal tactic in its long-running conflict with Morocco. It is trying to take advantage of a European court ruling last year that Western Sahara should not be considered part of Morocco in EU and Moroccan deals.

Polisario called the initial court decision a victory.

"This is a historic moment for the Sahrawi people and we hope the final judgment will contribute to the protection of our natural resources," said representative Kamal Fadel.

Earlier this month, a Panama court dismissed a Polisario case to block another phosphate cargo, saying there was no evidence it belonged to the group and that a domestic court was not the venue to judge political matters.

"We were hoping for the same outcome, but clearly disappointed we didn't get that," Ballance chief executive Mark Wynne told RNZ on Friday.

Phosphate has been sourced from other countries to ensure fertilizer supplies are maintained for this spring.

Ballance has said it is comfortable with the legality and ethics of its phosphate sourcing.

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