Port Elizabeth - A South African court on Thursday ordered the further detention of a Moroccan vessel laden with phosphate mined from the disputed Western Sahara pending a trial to determine the owner of the cargo.
The 34 000-ton vessel from Western Sahara and destined for New Zealand was last month blocked from sailing off due to a court motion seeking that the vessel return its cargo.
The motion argued that transportation of goods from disputed Western Sahara is illegal and in violation of international principles.
"The court has basically found that the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic and the Polisario Front have established, on a prima facie basis, that effectively the people of Western Sahara own the cargo," Andre Bowley, the complainants' lawyer told AFP.
"That question ultimately has to be determined by a trial court."
"My clients have satisfied the court that the case is sufficiently strong that the cargo should remain in South Africa until a full trial has been held," he said.
The 190-metre long Marshall Islands-flagged MV NM Cherry Blossom is being held at the southern Port Elizabeth port.
Morocco and the Polisario fought for control of Western Sahara from 1974 to 1991, when Rabat took over the desert territory before the signing of the UN-brokered ceasefire.
Rabat, which considers Western Sahara an integral part of Morocco, proposes autonomy for the resource-rich territory, but the Polisario insists on an independence referendum.
The UN in April adopted a resolution to restart political talks between Morocco and the Algeria-backed Polisario.