A file photo of phosphate at a Ravensdown facility in 2014.
Protesters are planning a waterborne flotilla in Lyttelton harbour to protest a ship carrying phosphate from Western Sahara for Ravensdown Fertiliser.
A union representing port workers has concerns about safety, and is disappointed its alternative protest, a letter delivered to the ship’s crew, was rejected by Ravensdown.
Ravensdown said it is trading legally and within United Nations’ expectations.
There are good reasons why New Zealand is unwilling to let go of phosphate imports from Western Sahara.
Cargo ship Federal Crimson is expected to arrive in Lyttelton in early December carrying 51,000 tonnes of phosphate rock, after stopping at Napier Port from November 30 to December 1.
Three such shipments arrive annually. The phosphate is Moroccan phosphate exporter OCP’s cargo until it is unloaded.
Much of the world’s phosphate supplies come from Western Sahara, a bitterly disputed territory once ruled by Spain but claimed by Morocco in 1975. The Sahrawi people consider the phosphate stolen.
Refugees from the long-running wrangle have previously pleaded with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to stop New Zealand’s trade in the mineral.
Advocacy group Ravensdown Take Em Down Otautahi is planning a “peace flotilla” to meet Federal Crimson.
Organiser Josie Butler said the group was taking inspiration from the nuclear-free movements and peace squadrons of the 1980’s.
The group had given a lot of notice in advance, and had informed the Coastguard.
Rail and Maritime Transport Union South Island organiser John Kerr said the union made a request to Ravensdown for its members to board the vessel and deliver a letter of protest, but was declined.
He believed that would “appease those committed to more radical, disruptive tactics” – a view shared by Butler, who said if the letter had been allowed their protest would have been less disruptive.
Kerr said there were some health and safety concernsg.
Union members who objected morally would still have to work and could technically be dismissed if they refused shifts, he said.
The cargo was legal, but that did not get past the moral issues, Kerr said.
“There used to be a time when slaves were legal cargo.”
Ravensdown group communications manager Gareth Richards said it was a “complex geopolitical dispute”.
“Our policy remains to encourage the UN to take all efforts towards a political solution of the dispute, do what we can to explore additional sources of phosphate rock and continue to encourage [Moroccan phosphate exporters] OCP to do what it can for the local people.”
Ravensdown has been exploring alternatives, he said.
Richards said OCP assured Ravensdown all funds from the phosphate mine are invested in local programmes that benefit the Saharawi people.