News / Calgary

Canada-bound phosphate shipment from Western Sahara detained in Panama

CALGARY — A ship carrying phosphate rock from Africa's Western Sahara to be used to make fertilizer at a central Alberta plant has been detained in Panama, Agrium Inc. says.

The Calgary-based company (TSX:AGU) is working with the ship owner, Danish Ultrabulk A/S, to get the shipment moving again, said Todd Coakwell, Agrium's director of investor relations.

"We're working through this. We don't see this as being something that's really going to interrupt us with our production at this time," he said Thursday.

Agrium's Redwater plant northeast of Edmonton has sufficient inventory to continue to process it into one of three key nutrients used in several agricultural fertilizers, he said.

The ship is the second to be impounded by court order this month in connection with a dispute over the Western Sahara, a territory controlled by Morocco but claimed by the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic or SADR. Earlier, a ship bound for New Zealand was detained in South Africa.

SADR claims the shipments have been illegally mined by an occupying government.

Coakwell says an "independent assessment" done for Agrium in 2016 concluded continued purchases from the Moroccan government-owned phosphate mining company would not contribute to negative human rights outcomes in the Western Sahara. 

He added it would be hard for Agrium to replace its supplier if shipping delays continue.

"You've only got so many places globally that you can source that rock from and, in a short-term period, to be able to get a new contract, new suppliers, that would be difficult to do," he said.

Coakwell said he could not confirm a report that the ship contains 55,000 tonnes of phosphate rock because that would violate confidentiality terms of its supply contract.

 

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