A French-Norwegian seismic survey vessel has entered Saharawi waters four times. The company behind the exploration blames its Dutch client.
The Norway-flagged seismic study vessel Oceanic Vega has over the course of the last months carried out seismic exploration studies offshore the coast of Mauritania, with incursions into the waters offshore occupied Western Sahara.
The vessel entered the occupied waters on four occasions between 14 and 22 September 2019. The maritime border between Mauritania and Western Sahara has never been officially defined, but in a negotiation it would either have gone directly west from the international onshore border that splits the Ras Nouadhibou peninsula in two, or as a maritime prolongation of the land border. The four entries into Saharawi waters have all taken place to the north of both these possible borders, hence, undeniably in Saharawi waters.
In a letter on 4 November 2019, the French operator of the vessel, CGG, wrote to the Western Sahara solidarity association APSO that the company “does not decide the location of its onshore and offshore operations”.
The company also stated that “in Mauritania, and on the block C19 in particular, the client has confirmed to us that it possesses the necessary authorisations to carry out the present seismic studies” and that the Oceanic Vega is located “within the exploration borders”.
The company with the rights on block C19 is Shell. The Dutch multinational was awarded the Mauritanian C19 licence in July 2018. The news service IHS reported in June 2019 that CGG was awarded the exploration job.
It is unclear why CGG and Shell can claim so surely that the Mauritanian border is this far north. Western Sahara Resource Watch has neither asked the Saharawi authorities nor Shell for a clarification.
The vessel Oceanic Vega is co-owned by CGG together with the Norwegian company Eidesvik AS. The Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara on 2 October 2019 wrote Eidesvik asking if the company had obtained authorisations to enter those waters, and if seismic data were acquired from the territory.
"Eidesvik owns 50% of the vessel you refer to", president and CEO of EIdesik, Jan Fredrik Meling wrote in response that very same day.
"The ship is on a bare-boat contract to the French seismic services company CGG, which in turn operates the vessel on the contracts that CGG were to have with its clients. If you have questions relating to their operations, you would have to address CGG. Eidesvik has no influence on which waters the ship is being used”; he wrote.
The Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara on 4 October 2019 wrote follow-up questions that have not been answered.
Western Sahara Resource Watch finds it remarkable that CGG places the responsibility entirely on its client.
"It is highly irresponsible for any company in any business to not have control over where it operates. We urge CGG and Eidesvik AS to follow the practices of responsible shipping companies, and assure themselves that their fleets are not used in conflict areas, such as offshore territories under military occupation", WSRW chair Sylvia Valentin stated.
Oceanic Vega carried out the operation while accompanied by two smaller service vessels, Jan van Gent and Aquarius. Jan van Gent has been used for such operations in Western Sahara several times in the past.
Petroleum-exploration in Western Sahara is a violation of international law. This was first stated in a legal opinion from the United Nations in 2002. Since then, the Court of Justice of the EU has concluded strong decisions on trade agreements covering the territory.
Four Norwegian seismic services companies have previously operated in Western Sahara on a mission from the Moroccan government, and all have since regretted their involvement. The request from APSO to CGG, 19 October 2019, can be found here.
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