Morocco launches Operation Crossing the Strait with Spain two years later

The Alaouite Kingdom is expecting a large influx after two summer seasons with no maritime connection between Moroccan and Spanish ports

AFP/JORGE GUERRERO  -   File photo, people waiting to board the ferries to Ceuta and Tangier in the port of Algeciras

Spain and Morocco have activated this Sunday the Operation Crossing the Strait (OPE) planned since the President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez, travelled to Rabat in April to hold an audience with King Mohamed VI with the aim of putting an end to the diplomatic crisis that had been going on for a year with the Alaouite Kingdom.

On this occasion, also known as operation Marhaba, "Welcome", includes in its route the Spanish ports that were excluded for the first time in 2020, as a consequence of the COVID-19 crisis, and then in 2021, in which Morocco alleged the same reasons despite the context marked by the rupture of bilateral relations since the clandestine reception in Logroño of the leader of the Polisario Front, Brahim Ghali, seriously ill with coronavirus.

However, it will not be until 15 June that the operation for the transit of vehicles will begin. According to the Mohamed V Foundation for Solidarity, the organisation in charge of coordination, 17 rest stops have been set up, including the Mediterranean ports of Tanger-Med, Tanger-Ville, Al Hoceima and Nador. Other reception areas have also been set up in the ports of Almeria, Algeciras and Motril, as well as Sète in France and Genoa in Italy.

Since 1986, the OPE has been responsible for the outward and return journeys of Moroccans who travel during the summer from Europe to North Africa. In this edition, Rabat has prepared up to 32 ferries, with 571 weekly trips to cover the route between its ports and those of Spain, France and Italy, all with a capacity for 478,000 passengers and 123,000 cars.

PHOTO/ARCHIVO  -   File photo, people waiting to board the ferries to Ceuta and Tangier in the port of Algeciras

In this regard, some 23 ferries will operate on the lines linking Morocco and Spain, 14 of which will cover the main route Tangier-Med-Algeciras, a figure that represents approximately 95% of passenger traffic. More than 1,000 agents will be available throughout the operation, including doctors, social workers and volunteers to provide assistance to travellers.

Operation Crossing the Strait is one of the main tourist flows between continents. The number of passengers in 2019, the last edition that included Spanish ports so far, amounted to 3,340,045 passengers, in addition to more than 760,000 vehicles. The figures were reduced in 2020 and 2021 as a result of the exclusion of Spain.

This operation is part of the commitments adopted by Madrid and Rabat in the joint declaration issued in April. In points 4 and 5 of the document, the parties agreed to re-establish "maritime passenger connections immediately and gradually until the opening of all frequencies", as well as to begin "with this approach" preparations for the Strait Crossing/Marhaba operation.

In April, connections by sea were resumed between the Spanish ports of Algeciras and Tarifa and the Moroccan ports of Tanger-Med and Tanger-Ville. In May it was the turn of the land routes. The borders in the autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla were rehabilitated just a year after some 10,000 people stormed Ceuta in what has been the biggest migration crisis in history with Morocco.

The Marhaba call service will be available 7 days a week and 24 hours a day. It is operational on the following telephone numbers:

- 00 212 537 20 5566 / 00 212 537 20 6666 for calls from abroad.

- The green freephone number 080 000 23 23 accessible from the United Kingdom

- 00 39 351 634 03 27 (Genoa) for Italy

- 00 33 6 240 737 65 for France (Marseille)

- 00 33 6 240 737 66 for France (Sète)

- 00 34 602 389 703 for Spain (Motril)

- 00 34 631 482 637 for Spain (Almeria)

- 00 34 631 012 349 for Spain (Algeciras).