LONDON, Jan 19 (Reuters) – A Norwegian shipping firm on Thursday denied a tanker it manages had violated a European court ruling after Western Sahara’s Polisario movement accused it of illegally transporting an oil cargo through disputed territory it claims.
The Polisario independence movement this week called on the European Union and French authorities to seize a France-bound cargo being transported on the Gibraltar-flagged because the tanker had made a port call to Moroccan-controlled Laayoune on Jan. 5.
The Polisario said the tanker’s call to Laayoune had rendered its cargo illegal as it had violated a ruling by the European Court of Justice last month that two trade deals between the EU and Morocco did not cover Western Sahara.
Key Bay’s Norwegian-based manager, Sea Tank Chartering, said it had acted within the guidelines set by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) for responsible business conduct.
“We consider the activities pursued as lawful under international law,” Sea Tank Chartering said in a statement to Reuters.
“The ruling from the European Court of Justice last month applies to the interpretation of the territorial scope of a treaty between EU and Morocco. The decision does not take a position on the regulatory framework for trade in various forms,” it said.
Mhamed Khadad, Polisario’s secretary for foreign affairs, said on Wednesday that as an “occupying force”, Morocco had no right to issue export licences.
The Moroccan foreign ministry declined to comment, and there has been no response from Brussels. The French foreign ministry could not immediately comment.
According to ship tracking data on Reuters, the 4,570 deadweight tonnes tanker is carrying a cargo of fish oil and is bound for the French port of Fecamp, where it is due to arrive on Friday.
The Polisario previously said on its Sahara Press Service that would file its complaint with the European Commission and French customs.
The vessel’s last reported position was off the coast of Spain at 1545 GMT on Thursday.
Western Sahara, which has significant phosphate reserves and offshore fishing, has been contested since 1975 when Spain, the former colonial power, withdrew. Morocco fought a 16-year war with Polisario, which established a self-declared Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.
Responding to an escalation in tension, U.N. peacekeeping observers have been deployed since August between Moroccan Royal Gendarmerie personnel and a unit of Polisario fighters facing off in a narrow strip of buffer zone between the two sides. (Reporting by Jonathan Saul in London and Patrick Markey in Algiers; Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)
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