Phosphate carrier arrested in Panama Canal in Western Sahara dispute

Panamanian-flagged Bulk carrier Ultra Innovation (IMO 9767481) , carrying about 50,000 tons phosphate to Vancouver reportedly delivering to Canadian company Agrium, was arrested under a maritime court order on the night of May 17th during its transit of the Panama Canal. Less than three weeks ago the 54,000 tons of phosphate cargo of the Cherry Blossom was seized in South Africa. Last week a South African court reserved judgement and extended the hold on the vessel to June 9th.

Both arrests relate to the disputed sovereignty of the Western Sahara, the source of the phosphate. The European Court of Justice recently ruled on the question of Territoriality within the framework of the Morocco-EU agreements. The Polisario Front is exploiting a European Court of Justice ruling last year that Western Sahara should not be considered part of the Moroccan kingdom in EU and Moroccan deals.

The Polisario Front new court-based strategy is a new angle in its attempt to obtain self-governance for the Western Sahara, which Morocco has claimed since 1975. A ceasefire in 1991 split the region in two, since when Morocco and the Polisario Front have been engaging in diplomatic battles rather than military ones. Repeated UN negotiations have failed to reach a deal and a heavily mined earth wall separates Moroccan-controlled territory and Polisario-held areas.

Morocco’s Office Cherifien de Phosphate (OCP) is the world’s leading exporter of phosphate and operates in the Moroccan-held areas. Agrium said that it was working with charter company Ultrabulk to resolve the problem. It said at the moment it did not anticipate any production interruptions at its Redwater facility in Alberta. 2016-built, 34,804 gt Ultra Innovation listed as entered with North P&I on behalf of Member and owner La Darien Navegacion SA of Ehime, Japan. ISM Manager is New Century Overseas Mgmt of Manila, Philippines, while commercial manager is Shoei Kisen Kaisha Ltd of Ehime, Japan.