Vísir reports that Icelandic companies are fishing off the coast of Western Sahara, in a territory that the European Parliament legal team has declared off-limits and illegal.
According to sources speaking to Vísir, the Icelandic fishing company Samherji has been fishing mackerel, horse mackerel and sardines in Western Saharan waters, totalling some 60,000 tonnes. Samherji director Þorsteinn Már Baldvinsson, in speaking with Fréttablaðið, said that while the area is “disputed”, Iceland is not the only country fishing there.
The basis for the controversy begins with the fact that Western Sahara is a disputed area in the midst of a political and sometimes violent struggle. When the UN ordered Spain to leave the territory, both Morocco and the Polisario Front – which wants to see Western Sahara become its own country – claimed the territory for their own. The conflict between the two factions has at times been violent, and the international community has repeatedly criticised Morocco for human rights abuses in Western Sahara.
As such, it is officially classified by the United Nations as a “non-self-governing territory”, and the exploitation of its resources violates international law. In fact, the European Parliament’s Legal Service declared last year that fishing in Western Saharan waters was illegal.
“The illegal and unethical EU fishing activities in Western Sahara’s waters are nothing short of theft, and constitute implicit support for what most countries worldwide regard as an illegal occupation by Morocco in Western Sahara. Even worse, it entails that the EU’s policy works against the solving of the conflict. This cannot continue,” Portuguese MEP Miguel Portas said at the time.
Þorsteinn Már told Vísir that the future of the company’s fishing in Western Saharan waters will be reviewed.