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Some Money Smells Too Bad

"It is surprising that mainly Bergen-owned Gearbulk sails for the occupying power Morocco". Read here editorial in one of Norway's biggest newspapers, Bergens Tidende, 29th of June 2008.
Published: 01.07 - 2008 18:41Printer version    
Bergens Tidende, Norway.
29 June 2008.
Se saken i pdf.

Western Sahara is occupied by Morocco, in violation of UN resolutions. The territory is rich in phosphate, which makes money for Morocco - not for the occupied Sahrawis. Gearbulk shipping company gets some of the profits by transporting phosphate out to the world market. Gearbulk seems to think this is all right. We do not.

The International Court of Justice in The Hague has rejected Morocco's claim to Western Sahara. The UN has established that the Sahrawis themselves must be allowed to decide their future, and that they have the right of disposal over their natural resources. Instead they are denied their freedom and deprived of the profits.

Two weeks ago Sahrawis demonstrated in Bergen. Kristian Jebsen, Gearbulk's chairman of the board, answered curtly by e-mail. Questions posed by Bergens Tidende were dismissed because they involved business relations and, in part, political conditions, and could not be answered on grounds of principle. By such means the company protected itself against criticism and social responsibility.

Jebsen increased their immunity with the argument that the company is registered in Bermuda and is operated from London. But Gearbulk is not owned by Bermuda. Even if it were operated from Mars, the owners' responsibility would not be removed.

The shipping company is performing within laws and regulations, Jebsen emphasised. He said nothing about ethics, which implies that one is aware of what is happening in Western Sahara and has an opinion about what one should not profit from.

An op-ed in Bergens Tidende today reminds us of the fact that the Advisory Council of Ethics of the Government Pension Fund – Global has called participation in oil exploration in Western Sahara a gross ethical breach that contributes to legitimise Morocco's occupation. The warning is also valid, of course, of the trade in phosphates.

The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs advises against such activities and says that they may be in violation of international law. Jan Egeland, director of Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, told Bergens Tidende that it is debatable whether they are breaking international law. But the activity is immoral, he believes. That's all? For Gearbulk that is not prohibited enough and is therefore OK. The chairman of the board confirmed this when he told that the British Foreign Office has stated that trade with the occupier of Western Sahara is not recommended, nor is it prohibited.

Whereas other shipping companies are now staying away, Gearbulk continues its activity. After all, it is not participating in trade with the Sahrawis' property. It just transports it around. Gearbulk shows determination to profit but not insight into what it is doing. It is, however, permissible to change.    

Translated from Norwegian by Western Sahara Resource Watch.




Since 1975, three quarters of the territory of Western Sahara has been occupied by Morocco. A majority of the population is still living in refugee camps in Algeria. Those who remained in their homeland are subjected to serious harassment from the Moroccan occupiers. For more than 40 years the Sahrawis have been waiting for the fullfilment of their legitimate right to self-determination.

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