Operation Marhaba. The ships, the shipping companies, the Moroccan flag, the reservations, the price increase… all about sea crossing

This year, all indications are that MREs’ arrivals will break records. Nearly three million Moroccans living abroad (MRE) are expected in Morocco with a large influx expected to Eid Al Adha. Thus, after a two-year hiatus due to an unprecedented health crisis, Operation Marhaba was due to start in mid-June with a series of measures to ensure a smooth transit of Moroccans around the world. In a situation with almost a monopoly on crossing the Strait of Gibraltar, foreign shipping companies are also rubbing their hands. That’s all you need to know about Operation Marhaba 2022.

In light of the launch of the operation, major operational measures are planned to guarantee the conditions for a safe and smooth passage for Moroccans around the world. These arrangements have been defined within the framework of the Joint Moroccan-Spanish Transit Commission.

In this wake, the Ministry of Transport and Logistics has launched a major fleet plan adapted to port infrastructure, flow management capacity and expected traffic forecasts.

32 ships mobilized for which routes?

In total, a total of 32 ships were mobilized at all shipping companies connecting Moroccan ports with Spanish, French and Italian ports. These ships will have a total capacity of approximately 478,000 passengers and 123,000 cars through 571 weekly trips.

The shipping companies with Spain, which represent 95% of passenger traffic, will see the allocation of 23 ships, including 14 intended for passengers on the main line Tangier Med – Algeciras, in addition to two ships dedicated to the transport of goods (trucks), according to the ministry. These ships offer 47 daily trips with a capacity of around 40,000 passengers and 11,000 cars, an increase of 4% over 2019.

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In detail, the 32 ships mobilized at all shipping companies will be deployed as follows:

-Tanger-Algeciras : 14 ships for 329 connections per week with AML (Morocco), Balearia, FRS Iberia, RFS (Morocco), Trasmediterranea, Intershipping (Morocco)

-Tanger-by-Tarifa : 4 ships for 168 connections per week with FRS Iberia, Intershipping (Morocco)

-Nador-Almeria : 4 ships for 48 connections a week with the companies Balearia, Trasmediterranea

-Tangier Med-Marseille : 3 ships for 3 connections per week with the company Méridionale

-Tangier Med-Barcelona-Genes-Sète : 3 ships for 5 connections per week with the companies GNV, Balearia

-Nador-Sète : 3 ships for 5 connections per week with the companies Balearia, GNV

Nador-Barcelona : 2 ships for 3 connections a week with the GNV company

Al Hoceima-Motril : 1 ship for 4 connections per week with the company Trasmediterranea

Tangier Med-Citavecchia : 1 ship for 2 connections per week with the GNV company

Nador-Motril : 1 ship for 7 connections per week with the company Trasmediterranea

Ticket prices rise again and are only sold by reservation

For these shipping companies, eased by the easing of health restrictions, the massive influx of MREs during the summer period represents a real breath of fresh air and an opportunity to revitalize activity and their cash flows after a long period of lean queues.

It is no coincidence that the reservation of tickets will also be accepted on all the maritime lines affected by the Marhaba 2022 operation, including the two lines “Tangier Med / Algeciras” and “Tangier ville / Tarifa”, in order to stop the number of passengers and take the necessary measures to ensure a smooth flow between the two coasts. A situation that is not to the delight of the travel agents installed at the maritime station in the port of Algeciras, who continue to demand through demonstrations that the maritime companies allow them to continue selling tickets for at least a year.

In any case, the prices shown are stable compared to the same pre-pandemic period, in May 2019. In this low season, for example, it takes 1730 DH for a Tanger-Algeciras connection on 22 May 2022 one way per car and 400 DH per person . For a crossing on 13 May from Nador to Sète in a double room for two people, the price offered was 2400 DH.

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But for the high season, prices are starting to rise again. For example, departing from Nador and en route to Genoa on June 10, two passengers paid 2500 DH when booking a double room, 2610 DH for their car and 1566 DH for the trailer. “It is true that the prices charged so far are stable compared to the same period before Covid. I would like to point out that emissions today are subject to conditions, such as a ticket that can not be changed. At the moment it is possible to buy “a ticket at a not very expensive price for a trip planned for the high season. But after the launch of the Marhaba operation, it is certain that the prices will increase significantly,” analyzes Najib Cherfaoui, port and maritime expert.

In fact, negatively impacted by the long health crisis, shipping companies recorded a net loss for long periods. To catch up and mitigate the effects of the increase in fuel due to the Russian-Ukrainian crisis, ferry prices are rising. In addition, port taxes, which rose on the side of the Iberian neighbor just after the reopening of the maritime borders between Morocco and Spain. This is how it is necessary to plan during the crossing, according to one operator, 39 euros in tax (round trip), ie. 30 euros (Spanish side) and 9 euros (Moroccan side) for one passenger instead of 10 euros and 55 euros (round trip) per car instead of 30 euros. Note that this year around two million passengers, mainly MRA, are expected between Morocco and Spain.

In a situation with almost a monopoly on crossing the Strait of Gibraltar, foreign shipping companies rub their hands and take purses from Moroccans living abroad (MRE). “European companies prefer to agree on prices, which is forbidden by the EU. But they prefer to include the latter’s fines in the tickets in advance and show the prices they want, ”explains Najib Cherfaoui. What about the Moroccan flag?

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Of the 32 ships mobilized for Operation Marhaba 2022, only five passenger boats carry Moroccan flags. These are Tanger Express from the company FRS, the three ships Bissat, Boraq & Med Star from Intershipping, Morocco Star from Africa Morocco Link (AML) and Morocco Sun from Detroit World Logistic. Thus, the Moroccan pavilion offers only a capacity of 5397 passengers and 1448 cars, which is easy compared to their Spanish competitors. “In any case, the tariff increase suits Moroccan operators,” says the maritime and port expert, who points out that the Moroccan maritime transport sector and the national flag are doing very poorly. “Professionals who have lost all visibility have been waiting for years for lifelines from the state. Comarit and IMTC, which went bankrupt after the 2010 crisis, only needed 200 million dirhams to revive. We had to support them, that was the mistake that the government of the time made, ”he insists.

In any case, today the Spaniards get the wind to rain or shine in this market for the crossing of the Strait of Gibraltar, which weighs more than a billion DH. The companies Baléaria and Trasmediterranea alone line up about ten ships. “The Spanish public authorities have understood the strategic challenges in this market. It is no coincidence that they are subsidizing the fuel for their pavilion. The merchant fleet in our country has fallen by two thirds in 20 years, as a result of which the cost of maritime transport has become worsened, ”emphasizes Najib Cherfaoui.

Following the liberalization of the sector, the Moroccan flag, which had 76 ships in 1989, currently has only 17 1973. Since and until 2005, this had allowed Morocco to have a merchant fleet of 62 ships to cover a significant part of its trade. in 1987 In 2004, we still had 45 ships that covered 17% of our commercial transport, ”laments a professional.

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