The Port of Algeciras, for a long time, was the first port, not only in Spain but in the whole of the Mediterranean, to lead the traffic of goods between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, but this year a tough Moroccan competitor has emerged, that of Tangier-Med, which could revalidate its hegemony.
Throughout 2020, the Port of Algeciras recorded the figure of 107.3 million tonnes of total freight traffic in its various forms (-1.94%). This represents one fifth of the port freight traffic of the country as a whole (21%).
The fall is minimal for a year marked by the effects of the pandemic and the slump in world trade. In fact, in the second quarter of the year, Puertos del Estado expected a fall of between 10% and 22%. However, up to November, the Port of Algeciras handled 99 million tonnes, only 2.2% less, and 4.7 million TEUs (containers), 1.4% less. The fall in passenger traffic will be much greater due to the closure by COVID. Up to November, passenger traffic had fallen by 74.3% (1.5 million people) and passenger car traffic by 76.4% (270,763 units transported).
The new year 2021 will not be an easy road for the Spanish ports, but the Port Authority remains fixed on three objectives: to once again surpass the 100 million barrier, to exceed 5 million containers and 6 million passengers. And to these challenges is added one more: to reach for the first time the 400,000 lorries in the connection with Morocco and Ceuta. 2020 is very close, despite the complications.
In recent years, the first place in the Mediterranean has been disputed between Valencia and Piraeus, in Greece. The former moved a total of 5.44 million TEU containers (standard measurement of a 20-foot container), narrowly beaten by the Greek port's 5.65 million TEU containers. Tangier-Med, for its part, has a capacity to handle 9 million TEUs per year.
However, the Port of Algeciras faces two colossal challenges: the lack of infrastructure outside the port and the growing competition from Tangier-Med, the modern port created by Morocco on the other side of the Strait of Gibraltar, which has been showered with multi-million dollar investments by the Alawi kingdom.
The recent activities of the Port of Tangier-Med have shown steady growth throughout 2020, according to the Tangier-Med Port Authority (TMPA). Tangier-Med alone processed 47% of Morocco's total port tonnage last year, making it the leading port in the Mediterranean.
In fact, the special agency for Tangier-Med (TMSA), the Moroccan equivalent of the Port Authority announced that Moroccan ports handled a total of 81 million tonnes in 2020, an increase of 23% compared to the previous year, according to the press release. The Tangier-Med port complex handled a total of 5,771,221 TEU containers in 2020, an increase of 20% compared to 2019.
It is a port specialising in the transit container trade, a type of trade that uses the port as a stopover on its way to another port, its final destination. And it is this activity that has made it Morocco's leading port by volume of trade.
In short, it is a strength in which Morocco has put a great deal of effort and with favourable current and promising future results. The capacity of its new and future infrastructures will position Morocco as a maritime power not only in the Mediterranean with Tangier-Med and Nador-Med, but also in the Atlantic, with the various projects underway and the traditional major ports.
The COVID-19 pandemic has not succeeded in paralysing the activity of the main Moroccan ports and it seems that nothing will stand in the way of achieving the objectives set in its National Port Strategy 2030.
The figures indicate that Tangier-Med's performance in 2020 was commendable, especially considering the exceptional difficulties caused by COVID-19.
As the world moves cautiously forward in containing the pandemic, many expect 2021 to be an eventful year. Despite Tangier-Med's good performance in recent months, it remains to be seen how the Moroccan port will fare in the face of the challenges and changes that are likely to occur during the course of this year.