Tellurium, vanadium, fishing, gas… the marine wealth of the Canary Islands that Rabat covets

After almost five decades of diplomatic conflicts and ‘clashes’ between Spain and Morocco, the Government of Pedro Sanchez has decided to take a radical turn in relations between the two countries to facilitate rapprochement and has done so by assuming – even with criticism from within the Executive itself and from its partners on the left of the parliamentary framework – a special regime of autonomy for the Occidental Sahara under Moroccan sovereignty. The decision seems to have brought the two neighboring nations closer together -although to this end Spain has distanced itself from Algeria and the Sahara- and could put a brake on Rabat’s other territorial ambitions in Ceuta and Melilla.

Nevertheless, Moroccodespite the latest diplomatic advances, has not stopped looking askance at the Canary Islandswhich have always maintained a special relationship, by proximity, with the former Spanish colony and the Polisario Front, and that in a context of global energy crisis due to the invasion of Ukraine, they have regained prominence for the ‘treasures’ -in the form of ‘rare’ metals, gas and oil- that hide their waters. Vanadium, cobalt, tellurium and even platinum, but also fundamental fishing banks and gas, are part of the resources that almost any country in the world would covet and that Spain has not exploited until now due to the environmental cost that it would entail, the initial economic investment would have and, above all, due to the lack of specification of the marine borders of the Canary Islands.

Tellurium, essential for making solar panels and electric cars, is concentrated in the crust of submarine mountains 463 kilometers away from the southern coast of the island of El Hierro, and the Canarian vein is the largest of this metal in the world. Without defined delimitation zones for Canarian and Moroccan waters, the extension of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Morocco due to the new Spanish policy with the Sahara could favor the access of the North African country to these submarine deposits with important concentrations of this metal and generate a new diplomatic conflict in the future. Border clashes occur after 200 nautical miles -370 kilometers-, in waters where the large tellurium reserves are located.

‘Tropic’, a submarine mountain 465 kilometers from the Canary Islands, concentrates the equivalent of a twelfth of the world’s consumption of tellurium

In 2017, a British scientific expedition revealed the results of an investigation carried out a year earlier that made clear the underwater wealth of the Canary Islands and the existence of seamounts with ‘rare’ metals and, in particular, one called ‘Tropic’, which could provide about 2,670 tons of tellurium, the equivalent of a twelfth of all world consumption. The samples that were extracted showed a concentration of tellurium 6,000 times higher than usual in deposits of this metal on land. The British study provided new data, although Spain was already aware of the ‘treasure’ that was hidden underwater. Thus, in 2014 our country presented United Nations a formal request to extend the ‘territory’ of the Canary Islands from 200 miles to 350 -650 kilometres- which would have favored domination of the tellurium deposit.

The underwater mountains near the Islands, called ‘The Canarian grandmothers’ -its age exceeds that of the island of Fuerteventura by 23 million years- they contain vanadium, platinum and cobalt on their surface in proportions 24, 365 and 290 greater, respectively, than those of these metals in continental crusts. Also the waters between Canary Islands and Morocco hide important deposits of gas and oil. Ten years ago, the German energy company RWE calculated that one of the deposits that Repsol intended to exploit in the area, a project that could not be carried out due to social opposition and environmentalists, had a production potential of at least 1,390 million barrels – the daily production of all the countries of the world is 88 million daily.

Fishing is another of the natural resources that has caused disputes, also agreements, between Spain and Morocco. The sector in our country generates close to 20% of the total production of the EU, with 890,000 tons between fish and shellfish in 2020 and with a global turnover of 2,050 million euros, and the Canarian and Saharawi waters are essential. In September of last year, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) disrupted an economic agreement of great importance for the Alawite kingdom, Spain and those of the European Union.

It would be necessary for the agreements that have been reached to be recorded in writing to prevent new ordeals in the area

The High Court annulled the agreement that modified the tariff preferences granted by the EU to products of Moroccan origin and the collaboration agreement on sustainable fishing. Regarding the latter, he pointed out that they were “controversial agreements because they were expressly applied to Western Sahara and the adjacent waters” and they had not consulted. If Morocco were to regain custody of the Sahara, the fishing agreements could come about again -it would no longer be necessary to consult the former colony-, but it would clearly jeopardize the future exploitation of tellurium seamounts -called ‘technological gold-, gas and other ‘rare’ metals.

The recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the Sahara it can curb Alaouite aspirations over the territories of Ceuta, Melilla and the Canary Islands and thus avoid the periodic waves of immigration. Now, it would be necessary for the agreements reached by Pedro Sánchez to be recorded in writing to prevent new ordeals in the area.

Source: LA INFORMACIÓN – Lo último by

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