If there is one thing Moroccan authorities should be given credit for, it is their ability to meet deadlines. The first phase of the Eur 1,400 million ($2,000 million) TangierMediterranean (TangMed) deepwater port opened on time in July and is due to operate at full capacity by the end of October.

The first container terminal has been let under a 30-year concession to AP-MollerMaersk. The project is being managed by TangMed Special Agency (TMSA), a public limited company created to manage the scheme in 2002. Funding has been split roughly equally between the private operators and the TMSA.

The next phase of the project, a second container terminal, is due to be completed in the summer of 2008, although the exact date has not been confirmed. It will add another 800 metres of quay line to the port, doubling quay length to 1,600 metres. Fierce competition over its operation finally ended with the German Eurogate-Constship consortium winning the contract, with the French shipping line CMA-CGM, Moroccan Comanav (now belonging to CMA) and the Swiss MSC.

Between them, these two new terminals will be able to handle 3.5 million TEUs, in addition to 1 million vehicles and 500,000 trucks a year, as well as having hydrocarbons, bulk and general cargo terminals. They will also provide new competition to neighbouring Algeciras port in Spain.

Trade flows

Located 14 kilometres across the Strait of Gibraltar from Algeciras in Spain, at the crossroads of the main east-west and north-south maritime trade lanes, TangMed is will offer an alternative trans-shipment facility for the 200 vessels a day already using the route. Taoufik Bengebara, president of the Pilot Committee TangMed-West Africa, explains where the existing traffic has come from.

‘After Maersk Sealand got an Algeciras concession, it created the Singapore-Algeciras direct line in 17 days transit time, serving smaller ports in West Africa and the Iberian peninsula through feeders,’ he says.

‘Thanks to this strategy, the company caught China-Africa and China-West Mediterranean [Malaga-Bilbao] trade flows. It got a whole length away of competitors, who tried hard to catch up and settle at Gibraltar too.’

Shipping companies have for some time complained about the congestion at the Spanish port, which is operating at full capacity. TangMed’s developers say it will mop up the overflow and more. The firms claim TangMed also offers 18-metre-deep births, exceeding the 16-metre depth at Algeciras and therefore enabling it to take larger vessels.

In response, Algeciras has launched its own extension, Isla Verda, to add a further 4.5 million TEUs of capacity and 18-metre-deep births. But the TangMed backers say this will not affect their development plans. They expect container volumes into the new port to double by 2014.

Economic balance

Etienne Rocher, manager of APM Terminals Tangier, says it will be big ships with large container capacity that must be accommodated in future. ‘Our approach time is less than 90 minutes,’ he says. ‘Given its depth of 16-18 metres, TangMed will be able to accommodate the biggest ships in the world, and even the future ones, as the present maximum [vessel] draught is 15.5 metres.’

Morocco has taken economic steps to help the port succeed. ‘The Free Trade Agreements Morocco signed with the EU and the US will enable companies to export with the Moroccan label from the new free trade zones connected to the port, with almost no import duties at arrival,’ says Youssef Bencheqroun of the TMSA.

As a dedicated trans-shipment port, TangMed is not reliant on the Moroccan export market to achieve economic balance.

Three new free zones are being built and will connect with the country’s roads and rail networks. These are all being set up with the support of the UAE’s Jebel Ali Free Zone International (Jafzi), the operator of the biggest free zone in the Arab world. A logistic area of 130 hectares, alongside container terminals, is due to open by the spring of 2008.

Goods arriving from remote destinations will be stored there, packaged, conditioned and redispatched through feeders to smaller ports in Africa. ‘They can even be re-exported to Europe by truck, thanks to the roll-on, roll-off terminal, and this in half an hour at the price of Africa, not the price of Europe,’ says Bencheqroun. ‘Do not forget, free zones are becoming rare in the world. You will find hardly any in the EU.’

Nearby, a 600-hectare industrial free zone and a 200-hectare commercial one are also being built at Melloussa and scheduled for 2009. They will focus on sectors such as automobile, offshoring, electronics and aeronautics.

Although they will help boost international trade flows at TangMed, the free zones will also trigger much-needed national development, particularly in the northern region. A few miles west of the new port, Tangier Free Zone (TFZ) is booming. After seven years of operation, it has created 32,000 jobs and enabled 260 companies to export $800 million worth of goods in the past year. French car company Renault recently announced a Eur 1,000 million ($1,400 million) investment to build an assembly line that will create 6,000 new jobs. From 2010, up to 400,000 cars will be manufactured in the zone every year.

‘In the past, the activities that financed the north were unclear,’ says Finance Minister Fathalla Oualalou. ‘Now these are being replaced by new ones.’

The Rif mountains, for example, are famous for their production of cannabis crops. But the government is anxious to create alternative revenues and employment. Huge projects like TangMed are creating knock-on projects such as the development of Tangier’s original harbour into a tourist attraction. Large trucks and family vehicles will be redirected to the TangMed facility, leaving a newly constructed sea cornice free from noise and traffic.

Further expansion

TangMed itself is already earmarked for further expansion. Moroccan authorities have issued a request for proposals for TangMed 2, only a few miles west of the current TangMed site. With an estimated cost of Eur 1,200 million ($1,700 million), this extension will raise TangMed’s overall capacity to more than 8 million containers a year by 2012.

Competition to operate the port is once again expected to be fierce as Chinese firms have entered the bidding. Shipping companies are anxiously awaiting the award, expected in the first quarter of 2008.