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France-Morocco ferries adrift

2012 marks a turning point in the history of maritime passenger transport between France and Morocco. After more than 35 years in service, Comanav and Comarit ferries stopped in January, leaving nearly 200,000 passengers on the quayside. Given it’s the height of the season, the Moroccan government is trying to find a solution, even a temporary one, so Moroccans in France can return home.

(photo NBC)
(photo NBC)

FRANCE / MOROCCO.  Summer 2011, Comarit-Comanav car ferries connecting Sète to Tangier and Nador are having one problem after another. Saying the fleet is old is an understatement. Downgraded by SNCM, the former Napoléon, Esterel and Liberté are over thirty years’ old and are not maintained.

The end result is that by the end of 2011, only 218 calls were made at Sète. In total, 169,000 passengers travelled on these antiquated ferries: 77,000 on Comanav (Nador) ferries and 92,000 on the Comarit line to Tangier. Comanav and Comarit (which bought the Comanav ferries branch from CMA CGM in 2009) are increasing their debts. Refuellers and stokers at Sète refuse to serve them. The vessels are supplied in The Bay of Gibraltar…

Finally, on 7th January 2012, two then three ships were seized in Sète. The entire fleet is at a standstill leaving 2,300 sailors in the lurch…Some have home loans they are unable to pay today and bailiffs are banging on the door. A real tragedy… In Sète, the City is helping sailors stranded on the Biladi, Marrakech and Bni Nasar. For the Sète economy, stopping the ships from sailing results in financial losses and unemployment. Travel agency Euromer and Comanav agent, had to lay off six people and if the line is not restored, “ten additional jobs are threatened”, says CEO Philippe Sala. 

Comarit-Comanav tender or bailout being considered

(photo NBC)
(photo NBC)
The only ferry line between France and Morocco has now disappeared. An essential maritime link to enable immigrant Moroccan families to return home in the summer with their cars. This is why there are ongoing negotiations to restore this service, at the highest level of the Moroccan government.

Several avenues are being explored, the first focuses on temporary financial assistance for Comarit where the state owns shares but whose major shareholder is the Moroccan businessman Samir Abdelmoula criticised for mismanagement. The other path is the call for tenders launched in February.

For now nothing official, some names have been whispered here and there –Trasmediterranea, Tallink and GNV. Maritime experts agree that a mixed passenger and freight service would make the line profitable during the winter. This is also the option taken by Grandi Navi Veloci which is considering extending the existing service between Tangier, Barcelona and Genoa to Sète, with its “Excellent” car ferry, which has a capacity for 2,253 passengers and 2,250 linear metres for trailers. Cartagena and the Spanish enclave of Melilla are also being discussed in the context of three-way links.

Still, the name of the ship-owners should be known in May… but Abdelmoula hasn’t finished yet!

Version française   

Nathalie Bureau du Colombier
Jeudi 12 Avril 2012

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