Maritime traffic is of great importance for Morocco’s economy, not only because it represents 98% of all foreign trade, but also because it affords the kingdom a strategic opportunity to tap into global trade flows, in particular those of Europe and the Mediterranean.

While most of the country’s transport segments are in government hands, management of its ports has been partly privatised. Introduction of Law 15-02 in 2006 facilitated a progressive transition of maritime services to the private sector, in particular the management of container terminals. The improvements in efficiency and transparency standards have led to a reduction of handling costs of some 30%, while turnaround times and capacity usage levels have increased. This has led to an expansion of maritime connectivity. Tanger-Med opened following the introduction of the law and has been privately run from the outset. Its total number of connections reaches 78, linking Morocco to over 120 international ports.

INFRASTRUCTURE INVESTMENTS: The high level of dynamism is illustrated by various large-scale projects aimed at the modernisation and expansion of national port infrastructure. Plans are encapsulated in the National Port Strategy (Stratégie Portuaire Nationale, SPN), which maps traffic flows and infrastructure needs until 2030. It has divided the country into specialised maritime clusters around which the relevant maritime infrastructure is being developed. As such, Tanger-Med in the north is positioned for trans-shipment, the port of Casablanca for domestic cargo, while the eastern ports of Jorf Lasfar and Safi are to become hubs for energy shipments.

All ports except Tanger-Med are managed by the National Ports Agency (Agence National des Ports, ANP), under the Ministry of Equipment, Transport and Logistics. The SPN shortlisted modernisation, expansion and greenfield investments amounting to a combined total of nearly Dh75bn (€6.7m), most of which will go towards commercial ports. One such example is the port of Nador in the north, which, besides being a key recipient of traffic from southern Europe, is being prepared to handle petroleum products. Con- struction of the so-called Nador West Med was launched at the start of 2013 and is budgeted at Dh7.5bn (€666m). The facility will include a deepwater port with terminals able to handle large tankers for refined hydrocarbons and crude. FOCAL POINT: The port of Casablanca, which accounts for the largest share of trade by volume, is also undergoing reform. While essential to the country’s trade flows, its location in the heart of the bustling cosmopolitan area is compounding congestion. As a result, it is now focusing on cargo that can be turned around at an optimal pace. Rail connections between Casablanca and a growing network of logistics platforms and inland dry ports, such as Mita and Zenata, are being ramped up to reduce processing times and free up valuable urban real estate. The connection also links up with the container terminal of Tanger-Med I, which is located near the city of Tangiers in the north and has a capacity to handle up to 4600 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) per day. A new container terminal is under construction by local port authorities and will start operations in 2016 with a full capacity of 5m TEUs at the final stage. Casablanca’s liquid and bulk shipments are gradually being shifted to the nearby port of Mohammedia, which mainly serves the petrochemicals industry, as well as a new facility that is planned for construction close to Kenitra, called Kenitra Atlantique. Details on the project are awaiting a recently launched feasibility study expected for 2015. Kenitra Atlantique would also serve regions such as Gharb Chrarda, Meknès, Taounate and Larache.

Finally, the port of Safi is undergoing significant expansion. Initiated by Office National de l‘Energie et des Eaux (ONEE) and the state-owned phosphate producer, Office Chérifien des Phosphates, the facility will be expanded with a coal terminal and phosphate hub able to receive vessels of up to 120,000 tonnes.In April 2013 the first phase of construction, which is budgeted at Dh4bn (€355.2m), was officially launched and work is scheduled for completion in 2017.

PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP: The only port outside of the scope of ANP is Tanger-Med. Established in 2007, the Tanger-Med Port Authority (TMPA) was created with a mandate to oversee the port’s planning, development and management. The TMPA is part of the Tanger-Med Special Agency (TMSA), which operates as a public-private partnership.

The master plan for the facility, scheduled for completion by 2016 and budgeted at Dh35bn (€3.1bn), consists of two container terminals, Tanger-Med I and II, and dedicated ports for passengers, vehicles and hydrocarbons. The two terminals of Tanger-Med I are operated by Netherlands-based APM Terminals, which is a subsidiary of Danish energy and shipping giant The Maersk Group, while the second is being run by a consortium of firms including EUROGATE, Contship Italia, and shipping lines MSC, CMA-CGM and Comanav.

In 2010 Marsa Maroc won the contract to manage the Tanger-Med I bulk terminal. Since the start of operations in 2008, the facility has seen significant annual growth, despite the onset of the global financial crisis. In 2013 the port’s activity was up by 39% compared to the previous year, with total cargo reaching 34.9m tonnes. According to the TMPA, containerised traffic grew 40%, while vehicles reported an 81% year-on-year rise. A total of 181,500 vehicles were handled by the port, of which 93,700 were exported from the nearby Renault factory. “Given the outlook for global growth in the maritime transport sector is at around 5%, the Tanger-Med port should handle roughly 3m TEUs in 2014,” Hartmut Goeritz, managing director of APM Terminals-Tangiers, told OBG.

NEW BERTHS: In 2009 work started on Tanger-Med II, which comprises two container terminals with a capacity of 5.2m TEUs per year and room for simultaneous berthing of seven mega-container ships. The facility was awarded to Marsa Maroc in 2012. Upon completion, scheduled for 2016, the facility will have a capacity of 8m TEUs per year – close to that of Rotterdam, which, at 10m TEUs, is Europe’s biggest port. “The development of Tanger-Med II has not only been instrumental for export-driven industries, but also plays a key role for trans-shipment operations given its strategic location,” Mohammed Abdeljalil, president of the board at Marsa Maroc, told OBG.

The project has received significant European financing – the European Investment Bank granted a total of €386m thus far – and has attracted various global maritime players. Maersk Line, CMA CGM, Delmas, Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL) and Hamburg Sud all have established operations at the port.

A major driver of its fast growth is the comprehensive industrial development surrounding the port. The most visible example is French car manufacturer Renault, which opened a $1.5bn factory on the outskirts of Tangiers with a capacity of some 150,000 units per year. The hub has also attracted many supply-side industries reliant on the connectivity via Tanger-Med. The region has four industrial parks targeting the aviation, textiles, chemicals, mechanical, metallurgical and naval industries (see the North chapter).

LOOKING AHEAD: The development of port infrastructure is considered a strategic component of the kingdom’s industrial development plans and is in line with efforts to attract foreign investment in key industries by positioning itself as entry point of choice for North and West Africa.

As the increase in capacity on the front end progresses, the ultimate success of this strategy will depend in large part on the connectivity between the port and other modes of transport. Port operators are mindful of Office National des Chemins de Fer’s need for added capacity and will be keeping a close eye on the roll-out of its plans to expand the network with new and more regular services, as well as extensions to key commercial centres.

As a result of the various changes currently being undertaken within the country, the next few years should see the establishment of a truly interconnected transport network in Morocco, upon which the country’s ports can build long-term plans for growth.