Norwegian company apologizes for sending gas to occupied Western Sahara

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PUSL.- The Norwegian company Equinor has transported gas to Western Sahara, while the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs discourages all activity towards the occupied area.

Equinor is 2/3 controlled by the Norwegian Government but states that it was unaware and did not understood that Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs policy towards Western Sahara.

Morocco is not a gas producing country and therefore depends entirely of imports.

According to the Norwegian Newspaper Dagsavisen, Eskil Eriksen, a representative of Equinor, stated in an email to the newspaper that “We can confirm that Equinor has sold a cargo of butane from Kårstø to the company Gulf Petrochem (GP). This cargo GP sold to a customer with delivery to El Aaiun, and we transported the cargo there for GP – We regret that this”. Furthermore, Eriksen wrote that this was the first time that Equinor had sold a cargo for delivery in El Aaiun, the largest city in occupied Western Sahara.

The transaction was made although the Norvegian government does not advise the Norwegian business community to operate in Western Sahara, as this may be contrary to international law.

Eriksen stated that Equinor did not understood that the Norwegian authorities have a different attitude to Western Sahara than the EU, which has a trade agreement with Morocco which also includes Western Sahara albeit the rulings of the Court of Justice of the European Union which are clear in saying that Morocco has no sovereignty over the territory and that all transaction have to have the consent of the Saharawi.

“We regret that this was not understood and we will step up the procedures so that this is understood in the future” says Eriksen, but he also explained in the same email that Equinor did make investigations before the gas supply contract was signed and these showed that there are no sanctions or embargoes from the UN or Norway for trade in the area, writes.

“- In our pre-sale procedures, it was not understood that the Norwegian authorities have a different attitude to Western Sahara than the EU, which has a trade agreement with Morocco which also includes Western Sahara.”

Dagsavisen also wrote that Equinor stated that they have informed the Norwegian authorities of the sale of butane gas. State Secretary Audun Halvorsen (H) in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed to Dagsavisen that they are familiar with the matter in question, but that it is Equinor who must respond to the circumstances surrounding the sale and transport:

” Since 2007, the Norwegian authorities have adopted a “precautionary” attitude with regard to Western Sahara, in the form of an official advice, which emphasizes, among other things, that “to prevent trade, investment, resource utilization and other forms of business activity that are not in in accordance with the interests of the local population in Western Sahara and consequently may be contrary to international law, the Norwegian authorities discourage such activities. The advising is not a legally binding ban, but is intended as a clear call on private actors to exercise caution and corporate responsibility in their assessments of involvement in Western Sahara.” – email State Secretary Audun Halvorsen to Dagsavisen.

The Stortinget (Norwegian Parliament) position on the conflict is that Norway does not recognize either Morocco’s claim to sovereignty over Western Sahara but also does not recognize the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). But in the discussion held in March this year, Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide (H) said, among other things, that Norway is concerned in avoiding actions that can be perceived as legitimizing the situation in Western Sahara”, referring to the Moroccan occupation.

Norwegian positions in Western Sahara are firmly in line with UN Security Council decisions.

Erik Hagen from Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW) declared to the Norwegian newspaper that “In general, it is very gratifying that Equinor understands the issue on Western Sahara and refrains from doing such exports again. Norwegian gas has nothing to do in occupied Western Sahara”.

According to Hagen the sale did not violate any rules or sanctions, but he believes companies have a moral obligation and that legally companies must follow embargoes, but they must also respect international law and respect human rights. “When companies say there is nothing in the law that forbids trade in occupied Western Sahara, they are right in the sense that the UN has not banned it. But that does not prevent it from being morally or politically wrong, or it can support violations of international law.”

Gulf Petrochem (GP), which bought the butane, has so far not responded to Dagsavisen’s request for comment on the case.

WSRW published in an article that data from the Norwegian statistics bureau”Statistics Norway” reveals the value of gas exports from Norway to Morocco over the last decade: In 2019, the value of the butane exports was at 290 million kroners (26 million Euros at 2020 exchange rate), while the propane exports was 357 million kroners (32 million Euros). The exports have also continued into the first months of 2020. There was a small exports of gas condensate to Morocco in May 2019, at a value of 7 million kroners.

According to figures published by Western Sahara Resource Watch last week, 15 transports of gas took place in to the territory during the calendar year of 2019. All of it was either from Morocco or its closest allies – Spain and France. 5 of the 15 transports came in to Western Sahara from Morocco.

The Norwegian NGO asked Equinor on 21 April regarding what kind of due diligence Equinor carries out on its clients, and how it views that its clients could be reexporting gas from Morocco to Western Sahara. These questions were not responded to in the reply letter of 24 April.

Morocco will continue to reroute imported gas to Western Sahara. It is easy for Morocco to circumvent the legal issues by exporting, whenever they see fit, from the Moroccan territory the goods they have robbed form Western Sahara or send to Western Sahara imports that are delivered to Morocco.

The legal war is ongoing, meanwhile the Saharawi population under occupation is suffering daily, the Saharawi in the refugee camps are suffering and the ones that are in the diaspora re suffering also. All this due to the inaction of the International Community regarding the respect of the UN resolution and Morocco’s impunity.