The Moroccan government's decision to suspend Operation Crossing the Strait, apart from being a blow to the south of the peninsula, which is largely fed by the flow of travellers during the summer season, also dealt a blow to the thousands of Moroccan migrants who were planning to return to their country for the summer season. The Moroccan government, faced with widespread discontent, proceeded to open some maritime lines from the ports of Marseilles (France) and Genoa (Italy), in addition to the line between Sète (France) and Nador (northeast Morocco). The North African country argues that this is a purely sanitary decision.
However, in the middle of Operation Crossing the Strait, the French authorities decided as a precautionary measure to suspend trips with the Intershipping company in charge of managing Operation Marhaba. The Intershipping ship, which was due to leave the French port of Sète, was blocked by the French authorities due to non-payment of outstanding fuel dues owed by the company. The company also reduced the number of tickets it had originally offered, which angered many of its customers, even though they had already paid for their tickets, leaving hundreds of citizens from Belgium, France and even Spain stranded in the port of Sète, without much assistance from either the shipping company or the French port authorities.
This maritime route would have served as an alternative to the lines that Morocco had with the Spanish ports, but for a dozen days, the families who wanted to reach Morocco on the Intershipping ferries, to spend their holidays and the feast of the Lamb scheduled for 21 July, have no possibility of embarking from the port of Sète. Some have slept in the port or in their car, in the hope of getting answers and solutions from the Moroccan low cost company. With no information from the agencies, several families are still stuck. Others have made their purchases on the platform, but have received a cancellation and a refund, however, another group of travellers have bought tickets, but do not yet know if the dates are maintained or when the trips will be resumed.
Operation Crossing the Strait, known in Morocco as Marhaba, was conceived in 1987. It usually begins in mid-June and ends in September, although it requires several months of prior coordination between several countries. Operation Crossing the Strait represents the largest movement of citizens and vehicles between two continents, Europe and Africa, between the months of June and September, and requires an organisational and operational structure; a fleet plan adapted to the needs; sizing of port supply and capacities; security arrangements; social and health services; rest areas, road information, road safety and information systems.
The Moroccan government expects the total capacity of these lines to be around 48,000 passengers and more than 15,000 vehicles per week. This means a total of approximately 650,000 passengers and 180,000 vehicles between 15 June and 15 September. Likewise, in order to reduce the cost of these journeys by boat, the government has imposed "reference prices" of 995 euros for a family of four for a round trip on long-distance routes and 450 euros on medium-distance routes.
Morocco has taken very drastic preventive measures since the beginning of the pandemic. But the health crisis in this country of 36 million inhabitants has evolved very favourably in recent months and the government has decided to relax the restrictions. A total of 9.1 million people have been vaccinated, 5.8 million of whom have already received their second dose. Morocco currently requires passengers to present a negative PCR before boarding, and they must also take another test on board, which means that ships covering these routes must be equipped with laboratories that can carry out PCR tests.
This year's Operation Marhaba will be particularly challenging due to the coronavirus pandemic, in particular the new Delta variant spreading across Europe. Morocco has imposed strong health measures that will affect all citizens travelling to the Kingdom in the summer. Rabat has created a classification within the countries: List A and List B. People coming from the first list will have to present a vaccination certificate or a negative PCR test, while citizens arriving from list B will have to undergo a 10-day quarantine and present a negative PCR test. The Moroccan health authorities have again warned of "further deterioration" if citizens do not comply with the measures imposed.