The Nador West Med Port project, which is still in the early stages of construction, aims to build a deepwater port with trans-shipment and container facilities and stands to transform the Oriental region’s position in Morocco’s maritime transport system.

The region is currently served by one international port, Nador Port at Beni Ansar, which was built in 1978 for imports to the region, particularly to the Sonasid steel manufacturing complex in Nador. Beni Ansar has capacity for bulk cargo, fishing, international road transport (transport international routier, TIR), and ferry services to Spain and France, but crucially, it has no container terminal.

Imports continue to represent the majority of port traffic; the import of goods such as coal and petroleum coke, cereals and butane rose to 1.85m tonnes, or two-thirds of total port traffic in 2011, according to the most recent statistics from the National Ports Agency (Agence Nationale des Ports, ANP). Outgoing traffic primarily consists of minerals such as barite, bentonite and clay, followed by citrus fruit and metallic lead. The Oriental region is not currently a competitive location for large-scale maritime transport, but Nador West Med, which has quays dedicated to energy products and bulk merchandise, could help to change this.

Port officials note that Nador experienced a peak in activity during the 2010-12 period, particularly for bulk shipments. However, the economic crisis in Europe began to take a more noticeable toll in 2013, pushing overall activity down by nearly one-fifth.

Port officials believe that the worst period of the economic crisis is behind them, and the outlook for 2014 is positive. However, the port is only operating at approximately half of its total capacity. According to the most recent figures available, Nador Beni Ansar processed a total of 598,710 passengers and 2.5m tonnes of freight in 2011.

FEWER CONNECTIONS: In terms of maritime trade, the port faces competition from the Spanish port of Melilla, which is located on Nador’s western flank, and the ever-expanding Tanger-Med complex on the Strait of Gibraltar. As a consequence, Beni Ansar has increasingly focused on passenger and TIR traffic in recent years. However, port officials estimate that TIR traffic has dropped by an annual average of 5% over the last few years, due to rising competition and falling demand from Europe, and they expect this trend to continue in 2014.

Passenger activity dipped in 2012 when a locally based ferry service, Compagnie Maritime Maroco-Norvégienne (Comarit), ceased operating. Comarit acquired the struggling Compagnie Marocaine de Navigation in 2009 before going bankrupt itself. Foreign ferry services picked up the slack in 2013 to compensate for Comarit’s absence. This should help to boost activity in 2014, but the port has yet to regain its 2011 levels. Today, Spain’s Acciona provides regular service to the Spanish port of Almería, and Italy’s Grandi Navi Veloci links Nador to Sète, France.

The limited number of companies serving this line contributes to keeping ticket prices high, which makes it difficult to compete with other destinations, such as Tanger-Med, which is served by six ferry companies to a wider array of European ports in Spain, France and Italy. In addition, port officials estimate that overall passenger traffic is roughly half of that seen in 2002, as competition from low-cost airlines and changing lifestyles have reduced demand for boat travel. Competition from Melilla and Tanger-Med also cuts into Nador’s passenger activity.

BULK TRAFFIC: Bulk and diverse merchandise traffic is also set to pick up in 2014, largely due to an increase in clinker exports from the Swiss cement manufacturer Holcim. The firm won a contract to produce and export 600,000 tonnes of clinker, an input for cement manufacturing, to its sister company in Côte d’Ivoire over the course of 2014. This will increase both the import of inputs such as petroleum coke and other energy products, as well as exports. Officials estimate that bulk traffic could rise by up to 25% year-on-year in 2014.

In addition, a project to build a 318-MW coal-fired power plant in the province of Jerada will also boost traffic at Nador in the next two to three years. The construction contract was awarded to Chinese firm SEPCO III in July 2013, and the plant is expected to come on-line by the end of 2016.

NATIONAL MARITIME STRATEGY: The Nador West Med project is still very much in the planning stages, but it aims to equip the Oriental region with a large, integrated port complex along the lines of Tanger-Med. If the project achieves its ambitious scope, Nador West Med will help to make the Oriental a more competitive region in terms of maritime trade and trans-shipment, boost opportunities for investment and support the growth of local industries. Ultimately, it could also help to position the Oriental as a hub for trade and commerce in the Maghreb region.

Nador is one of six centres the ANP has designated nationwide under its Dh60bn (€5.3bn) 2012-30 port strategy, which intends to make Morocco’s ports a catalyst for economic growth and competitiveness. Under this strategy, Nador will focus on trade with Europe, the Mediterranean and the Maghreb.

Other ports under the development strategy include Tangiers, focused on northern and western Europe and trans-shipment in the Strait of Gibraltar, as well as Casablanca, Jorf Lasfar, Agadir, and a southern project that would group together the ports of Tan-Tan, Laâyoune and Dakhla.

NADOR WEST MED: An 850-ha site has been selected for Nador West Med’s development in Betoya Bay, located 30 km north-west of the town of Nador. According to initial project outlines, Nador West Med will consist of a deepwater port specialising in the import, trans-shipment and stockage of energy products. The port is slated to have the annual capacity to process 15m tonnes of refined petroleum products, 6.5m tonnes of coal and 1.5m tonnes of bulk, among other things. According to ANP estimates, in phase I construction of the project will require a total of Dh5.9bn (€523.9m) in investment, to be provided by the Hassan II Fund (Dh1.6bn, €142.08m), Tanger-Med Special Agency (Dh100m, €8.88m), and the remaining Dh3.2bn (€284.16m) from public debt and public-private partnerships. The Nador West Med Company was created to manage the operation of the port under the authority of the ANP.

In the second phase, the ANP plans to add two more quays dedicated to petroleum products, which would raise the port’s total capacity to 20m tonnes of energy products per year. The estimated cost of this extension is Dh1.6bn (€143m). A rail connection between Nador West Med and the existing Nador-Taourirt railway will also be necessary in the future to ensure multi-modal connections.

INTEGRATED COMPLEX: The development of Nador West Med is part of an integrated project that also includes plans to reorient and specialise activity at the existing Nador port and support tourism activities at the nearby Marchica resort.

When the Nador West Med complex becomes operational, the port at Beni Ansar is likely to be redeveloped to handle passenger traffic, recreational boating and fishing. These activities would all be complementary to the development of the neighbouring Marchica ecotourism resort, which borders Beni Ansar to the east.

In this sense, it is possible that the Nador port complex will follow a similar path to the development of Tanger-Med. Container and other shipping traffic was shifted to the Tanger-Med port when it opened in 2007, and the historic port in the Bay of Tangiers is now being transformed into a leisure port with a marina, residential and commercial infrastructure, and cruise ship docks. The transfer of freight operations 30 km away from the city of Nador is also meant to eliminate congestion in the growing town of Nador, as was done in Tangiers.

MAKING A PLAN: This is a major undertaking, and the long-term vision for the port is still being developed in order to better respond to the needs of the local economy and to explore possible complementarities with Tanger-Med. As the project currently stands, Nador may specialise in the transport of energy products, both for the Oriental region and for other parts of the country. Tangiers will continue to develop its capacity for container transport, as the two new terminals currently under construction will raise its capacity from 3m to 8.2m twenty-foot equivalent units by 2016.

The Nador project was officially inaugurated in December 2012, and is scheduled to come on-line in 2019 at the earliest. A series of tenders were launched in early 2014 for companies to conduct studies to determine the potential demand for Mediterranean trans-shipment traffic and energy products, as well as the project’s overall profitability. These studies should more clearly define the scope of Nador West Med before the year’s end.