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7/3/2018 — Other Minerals and Metals
Phosphate cargo a political football

Two major New Zealand fertiliser companies have told Radio New Zealand they are unlikely to buy a controversial cargo of phosphate which has been in limbo for almost a year.

Resources writer Eric Frykberg said the vessel NM Cherry Blossom was bound for New Zealand when it was stopped in Port Elizabeth, South Africa with its cargo of 50,000 tonnes of phosphate rock last May.

Frykberg reported that activists argued the fertiliser belonged to an independence movement for Western Sahara - where it was mined - not the Moroccans, who have occupied that area since 1975.

A South African court agreed, and the consignment was now expected to be put up for tender within a couple of weeks.

However, Balance Agri-Nutrients, which had contracted to buy the material, said it would probably not put in an offer. It reportedly said a final decision had not been made but it was unlikely to buy the fertiliser because it already lots of material in stock.

Since the seizure, Balance had been carefully building up stockpiles to make up for the shortfall, bringing in phosphate by long-range ships that go around Cape Horn and do not need to stop in South Africa to be refuelled.

The other major NZ company, Ravensdown, also said it would not seek to buy the material from the seized ship.

New Zealand uses hundreds of thousands of tonnes of phosphate for its intensive agriculture each year, much of it spread by aerial top dressing.

Morocco produces about 75% of the world's phosphate, much of it mined in the Western Sahara, whose sovereignty is disputed.

Frykberg reported Balance has not lost any money from the seizure because it was not due to pay for the cargo until it arrived in New Zealand.

It is understood, Radio NZ said, that there are still financial hiccups to be sorted out in South Africa between the ship owners, their insurers and the Port Elizabeth wharf authorities over huge berthage fees, but details are unclear.

Source: radionz.co.nz

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The NM Cherry Blossom was carrying 50,000 tonnes of phosphate rock when it was stopped at Port Elizabeth. Photo: Radio NZ, Source: M.L. Jacobs, MarineTraffic.com