- Activists from the environmental group Greenpeace have hijacked a fishing vessel in the Swedish port of Gothenburg, which was to fish off Western Sahara. The Cook Island-registered vessel is accused of "piracy", environmental destruction and violating Swedish embargo on fishing off the occupied territory.
The Greenpeace activists since Wednesday have hindered the fishing vessel "Nordic IV" from leaving the port of Gothenburg, Sweden's second city. Some 20 activists have chained themselves to the hawsers that are holding the boat in order to prevent it from leaving the port.
Both the activists and the vessel's staff have asked for Swedish police to intervene. Greenpeace wants the fishermen and the vessel's Swedish owners detained for "piracy" while vessel staff want the activists removed. Swedish police however say they will not intervene as long as the action is a "peaceful protest".
According to Greenpeace Sweden spokesman Staffan Danielsson, "we are here dealing with real pirates. They are fishing illegally and their fisheries are not only destroying the maritime environment but also the livelihood of the local populations, which is being robbed of both labour opportunities and food."
M Danielsson holds that the real owners of the vessel are Swedish. "Nordic IV" sails under the flag of the Pacific Ocean nation Cook Islands and the company behind the vessel is registered in the British tax haven of Guernsey. "No matter how the Swedish owners are trying to hide their paper trail, they are leaving clear footprints in the oceans and are contributing to prolong the armed conflict in Western Sahara," said Mr Danielsson.
The Swedish government has been clear on its condemnation of the exploitation of natural resources in and off Western Sahara as long as the territory is occupied by Morocco, holding such exploitation is against international law. Sweden in vain try to stop the European Union (EU) sign a fisheries agreement with Morocco that included the waters of Western Sahara.
While the Swedish government urges its nationals to refrain from trading with Western Sahara's natural resources, the Swedish owners of the vessel "Nordic IV" are said to have "made a separate deal with Morocco," according to Greenpeace Sweden.
"The pirate fisheries of 'Nordic IV' are contributing to prolong the occupation of Western Sahara," holds Mr Danialsson. "Therefore, we can talk about several crimes here, both judicially and morally. In addition to over-exploiting maritime resources, they also are supporting an occupying power and local communities are not gaining anything from the fisheries."
The Greenpeace action in Gothenburg is the last of a long list of activism targeting the exploitation of natural resources in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara. This however marks the first time international environmental organisations join the battle of pro-Sahrawi activists.
Earlier, activists have managed to make a large number of oil companies divest from Western Sahara, practically stopping most oil exploration schemes in the occupied territory.
Currently, activists are targeting shipping companies transporting phosphates out of the territory. The Moroccan-run phosphate mines in Western Sahara are the territory's main revenue source. Three shipping companies have already declared they will stop such transports, but today it was revealed that the Norway-based company Gearbulk is continuing its controversial phosphate exports, with a transport now heading for New Zealand. Activists now demand Gearbulk pay the Sahrawis back the estimated euro 120 million their "illegal" exports of phosphates have cost.
Regarding fisheries, pro-Sahrawi activists so far have been less successful. While some countries, including Sweden, Norway and the US, will not accept fish caught off Western Sahara, the European Union (EU) includes Sahrawi waters in its fisheries agreement with Morocco. The inclusion was a Moroccan demand and the crisis-struck EU fisheries industry did not risk losing the valuable deal with Morocco.
Especially Spanish, Portuguese and French vessels depend on fisheries off Morocco and Western Sahara. Those countries, defying Swedish protests, lobbied for an ample agreement with Morocco.
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