Photo: Marcel Coster.
By Erik Hagen
First published in English 20 April 2009
The vessel Geo Caribbean, owned by Norwegian Fugro-Geoteam, has just completed a 3-month assignment in Western Sahara for the occupation power Morocco. The assignment was completed a week ago, and the ship is now located in Norwegian waters. The above photograph shows the vessel the day it reached the Netherlands during Easter. On Monday Geo Caribbean sailed past the city of Ålesund.
“This has been a sad period for the Sahrawi people. The Norwegian involvement may result in the Sahrawi people never receiving their longed-for independence,” Sergio Ramirez, in the campaign organisation Western Sahara Resource Watch on the Canary Islands, told Norwatch.
If Morocco finds oil in Western Sahara, it is unlikely that Morocco will accept a referendum in Western Sahara, which is something that more than a hundred UN resolutions have demanded. The Norwegian exploration has taken place at variance with statements from the UN’s legal office.
The Canary Islands Concerned
Since January, when Norwatch revealed the Norwegian involvement, the subject has been an important issue in the press on the Canary Islands. A dozen newspapers have during the past weeks written that the Norwegian-Moroccan oil adventure in occupied Western Sahara may threaten the security on the Spanish islands.
The relationship between Morocco and Spain has always been sensitive, among other things because Morocco lays claim to land and ocean areas that have internationally been considered Spanish. Among other things, Morocco claims two Spanish enclaves in northern Morocco and has also maintained that the Canary Islands are theirs. This Moroccan sabre-rattling resulted in that, a few years ago, they invaded an uninhabited Spanish islet. The Canary distrust of Morocco’s territorial claims has not been lessened by the recent discovery of oil in Moroccan waters, not far from the Canaries.
Now a new flank for conflict may form on the threshold of the tourist islands, in Western Sahara. This area was occupied by Morocco while it was still a part of Spain. With oil in Western Sahara, the political and judicial tangles in the region may be even harder to sort out.
Even though Morocco has since 1975 illegally occupied most of Western Sahara, they have never laid claim to the ocean area outside the annexed area, where they are constantly drawing closer to the longed-for oil.
Such a claim has, on the other hand, been presented by occupied Western Sahara’s government in exile. Previously, they have stated that Morocco’s oil exploration in Western Sahara is a breach of the truce between the parties. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Western Sahara wrote in a cutting letter to Fugro-Geoteam that the company is endangering its own crew through the operation, by assisting the Moroccan plans.
Norwatch’s revelation that the Moroccan navy was assigned to be ready to support the Norwegian seismic mission in the occupied waters also received media attention.
When the Canary Island press wrote before Easter that Fugro-Geoteam’s employer, the American company Kosmos Energy, has been planning to establish a plant on the Canary Islands for receiving oil from the occupied area, the headline became “The Canary Islands’ Security Threatened”.
During the week-end the authorities and the business sector on the Islands denied that they have been involved in the plans. The American Chamber of Commerce has also denied that it has participated in Kosmos Energy’s plans to establish itself there.
It nevertheless appears as if Kosmos has had such intentions. The Canary Islands would be the most natural location for the company’s base if it plans to extract oil offshore Western Sahara. The occupied republic’s government in exile would in that case become extremely displeased with its earlier colonial masters in Madrid.
Western Sahara is a full-fledged member of the African Union and has strong political support from the majority of Africa’s nations.
It is Norway’s Fugro-Geoteam’s exploration that has participated in arousing the new insecurity on the Canary Islands. Among most Sahrawis the Norwegian project has provoked anger. Refugees on Gran Canaria – many thousands of them live on the Canary Islands – have protested against Norway’s involvement by demonstrating in front of Fugro-Geoteam’s escort ship in the harbour of Las Palmas. In Morocco, Sahrawi students have participated in protest marches against the Norwegian involvement.
Western Sahara Resource Watch is now demanding that the Norwegian company hand over the collected data to the Sahrawis.
“It is evident that the data that Fugro-Geoteam has collected do not belong to them. Nor do they belong to their American employers or to Morocco. Fugro-Geoteam must immediately hand over the data to their rightful owners – that is, the Sahrawis,” Ramirez of Western Sahara Resource Watch told Norwatch.
During the week-end Geo Caribbean and its escort ship Thor Omega (on the right) were at port in Ijmuiden outside Amsterdam. Norwatch has obtained photos of the ships.
The ship Island Senior, which Norwatch documented as teamed up with Thor Omega outside the Canary Islands in March, was also reported to be at anchor a stone’s throw away from Geo Caribbean in the Dutch harbour on 10 April.
On Monday Geo Caribbean and Thor Omega were at anchor outside Bergen and Ålesund and then moved further out in Norwegian waters, probably to carry out explorations there.
From what Norwatch has been able to ascertain, none of the letters that Western Sahara groups, Sahrawis, or the Western Sahara government in exile has sent to Fugro-Geoteam have been answered.
The UN’s legal office has declared that oil exploration in Western Sahara is at variance with international law, and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs advises against such involvement. “An exceptionally gross violation of fundamental ethical norms because this may contribute to legitimise Morocco’s sovereignty claims and thus undermine the UN’s peace process,” the Ministry of Finance called such an involvement when they sold off Kerr-McGee, a previous American oil company involved in oil exploration in occupied Western Sahara.
Kerr-McGee was for many years a close partner of Kosmos Energy, which took over the test area in Western Sahara.
The CEO of Fugro-Geoteam, Hans Meyer, confirmed to Norwatch today that their assignment is concluded and said that the company has no plans for further involvement in Western Sahara. The Dutch parent company said the same a few years ago.