French Jurist Denounces Seizure of Moroccan Phosphate Cargo in South Africa as ‘Political Piracy’

Delebecque saluted the decision by Morocco’s Office Chérifien de Phosphates (OCP) in June not to take part in a trial to defend the legality of the shipment.

The cargo, which was carrying 50,000 tons of phosphates bound for New Zealand, was detained in Port Elizabeth in May following a complaint by the Polisario Front.The separatist force and self-proclaimed“representative” of the Sahrawi people claimed that the shipment was “illegal,” because it had transported phosphate extracted from Western Sahara.

Unlike Panama, where another shipment bound for Canada was detained in May before being released a few days later as a local court dismissed Polisario’s claims over the shipment, South Africa, a major Polisario ally, has continued to hold the ship.

In June a panel of South Africa judges ruled that the detention of the shipment is “correct” and said that a trial would be held to determine ownership of the cargo.

However, OCP refused to go to trial, pointing to the bias of South Africa towards Polisario. The Moroccan phosphates group said that taking part in the trial would mean giving credit to an “illegal” process.

Delebecque, who serves as the President of the Chambre arbitrale maritime de Paris, a court specializing in maritime arbitration, wrote in the chamber’s review that OCP’s decision not to go to court was“difficult” yet “remarkable.”

The outcome of the case, the French jurist suggested, will in some ways decide the future of maritime commerce.

“The conclusion of this case will actually tell us whether it is now conceivable, on the judiciary level, that international – which represents 90percentof global trade – become hostage to some form of unprecedented and increasingly vicious political piracy,” wrote the French judge.

With the Western Sahara being a “non-autonomous” region and the conflict in the disputed area submitted to negotiations under the United Nations, Polisario does not have the legal basis to request countries to seize shipments and claim right over them.

The ruling of the Panama court on May 5, Delebecque noted, was a response to the claimant that “national jurisdiction is not an arena to settle diplomatic and political cases as the one about to whom belongs the phosphate cargo extracted from Sahara.” Delebecque called the court decision “reasonable” and “founded.”

However, things were different with the South African court’s ruling. The president of la Chambre arbitrale maritime de Paris agreed with OCP which called the decision “political” and an “abuse of power.”

The French jurist also affirmed that the South African court lacked legal competence, that its ruling went against international law, and that OCP and its affiliate Phosbucraa’s were right to chose not to got to court.

“Maritime commerce professionals must congratulate OCP Group and the Panama court. The latter in particular, in charge of applying law in one of the busiest maritime routes in the world, did not hesitate to reaffirm this principle,” wrote Delebecque, pointing that the court made a clear distinction “between judiciary matters” and “political considerations,” especially if the case in questions, like the Western Sahara issue, is placed under a UN-led process of resolution.

By: Saad Eddine Lamzouwaq


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