Operation Marhaba 2022, also known as Operation Crossing the Strait, is taking shape. The operation is being used by hundreds of thousands of Moroccans living abroad who use various routes to enter and leave the Alaouite kingdom in order to enjoy the coming summer season, and the latest details are already known.
Up to 32 ferries have been enlisted on all the shipping lines connecting Moroccan ports with Spanish, French and Italian destinations, as confirmed this weekend by the Moroccan Ministry of Transport and Logistics.
These vessels offer a capacity for around 480,000 passengers and some 123,000 cars within a schedule of 571 weekly trips, as indicated in an official communiqué by the Ministry of the Kingdom.
The last meeting of the Morocco-Spain Joint Commission for the transit of Moroccans living abroad, which took place in Rabat at the end of last week, led to several agreements aimed at ensuring good travel organisation and improving services for Moroccan citizens living abroad in the context of Operation Crossing the Strait, which will take place in a few weeks' time. The Commission served to lay the groundwork for the successful implementation of the operation by the Moroccan and Spanish administrations, along with the participation of the shipping companies involved.
Traffic with Spain represents 95% of the total volume of people involved in Operation Crossing the Strait of Gibraltar and will involve 23 of the 32 vessels mentioned. Of these 23 ferries, 14 are assigned to the main Tangier Med-Algeciras line, along with two vessels dedicated to transporting lorries and goods, as stated in the ministerial communiqué. These vessels can carry out up to 47 daily trips with a capacity for 40,000 passengers and 11,000 cars, which represents a 4% growth compared to the volume of 2019, the last year in which Operation Marhaba took place.
Tickets can be booked on all the lines of Operation Marhaba 2022, including the Tangier Med/Algeciras and Tangier city/Tarifa lines, in order to organise the trips so that there is a good communication, well organised between the Spanish and Moroccan points, and thus avoid the accumulation of passengers in the ports, facilitating the fluid circulation of people between both shores of the Mediterranean.
Operation Marhaba had to be suspended for two consecutive years, in 2020 and 2021, due to the fateful COVID-19 pandemic, which restricted travel and movement of people as much as possible to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. This measure is very important because it allows the temporary return of Maghreb nationals living abroad, mainly in various European countries, to enjoy the summer holidays in the Alawi kingdom and North Africa in general, and has been implemented every year since 1986, with the exception of the two mentioned above, for health reasons.
Morocco reopened its borders last February after almost three months of suspension by air and sea due to the increase in cases of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, which was highly contagious at the time. On 8 April, the Moroccan government eased restrictions on travel by sea and people living abroad must show a PCR test or a vaccination pass instead of both requirements at the same time when travelling to or from the Kingdom.
It is worth noting that Operation Marhaba means a very significant movement of people, the largest between continents in such a relatively short space of time as the summer holidays, i.e. from June to September. The figures for the last Operation Crossing the Strait of Gibraltar in 2019 showed up to 3,340,045 passengers and 760,215 vehicles crossing the Strait of Gibraltar.