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A huge shipment of phosphate bound for New Zealand has been seized in South Africa because of claims it was illegally mined.

Morocco produces about 75 percent of the world's phosphate, much of it mined in the Western Sahara.

Morocco produces about 75 percent of the world's phosphate, much of it mined in the Western Sahara. Photo: AFP

The 54,000-tonne shipment, which was being imported by fertiliser company Ballance Agri-Nutrients, was seized en route from the Western Sahara to New Zealand.

The shipment represents about an eighth of New Zealand's annual phosphate needs and is worth about $7.2 million.

Ballance said it anticipated it would take several weeks to resolve the situation.

In the meantime, it would bring in other phosphate shipments to keep farmers supplied.

Much of the world's phosphate, which is vital for plant cell metabolism, is mined in the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony that Morocco overran in the 1970s.

A dissenting organisation, Polisario, regards itself as the legitimate ruler of the Western Sahara and sees Morocco as an invader.

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