22 November - A final decision to launch a ferry route between the Spanish Canary Island of Fuerteventura and the southern-most port of Morocco, Tarfaya, has been made. The new line, which is to transport both persons and goods, is to be inaugurated no later than next summer, the autonomous government of the Canary Islands has announced.
Hidden behind the large headlines about a great illegal traffic of migrants from West and North-West Africa to Spanish archipelago lies the fact that trade and legal traffic in persons in rapidly growing. Canarian investors and charter tourists from northern Europe are increasingly travelling to north-western Africa, while traders and shopping tourists from Morocco, Mauritania and Senegal are becoming a visible part of urban life in the Canary Islands.
Consequently, air connections between the Gran Canaria and north-western Africa have slowly improved, and the traffic of freighter ships from the Las Palmas port to Africa is growing rapidly. Passengers however until now have not been able to cross the narrow strait between the Spanish islands and southern Morocco - only 100 kilometres wide - by ship.
Plans to make such a seaway connection were announced in Fuerteventura - the island closest to the African mainland - earlier this year. By now, the plans are so much developed that Adán Martín, President of the autonomous islands, yesterday announced that a regular ferry service between the Fuerteventura port of Puerto del Rosario and southern Morocco's Tarfaya was to commence "before next summer."
President Martín said this after holding a meeting with a representative of the Canary Islands cabinet, José Segura, the leader of the Las Palmas Port Authority, Emilio Mayoral, the island chief of Fuerteventura, Mario Cabrera, representatives of the shipping company that is to operate the route and a government workgroup that is to assure the realisation of the project.
The Canary Island government has placed much importance and prestige in the project, and Mr Martín emphasised that the ferry connection with Morocco "involves an extremely important change for the Canary Islands," which now looks to Africa for economic development. The new line, which connects the islands with the mainland following the shortest route of approximately 100 kilometres with a duration of three to four hours, was said to have "a strategic character" for the archipelago.
Mr Martín said his government was now putting pressure on the European Union (EU) - which is a major financial source of development to the islands - to rubberstamp the ferry project before the end of the year and as such secure its funding. The Canary Islands had told the EU the connection would be vital to secure more traffic in goods and persons, and as such consolidating the islands' role as a popular holiday destination.
Many details of the upcoming ferry connection however still need to be elaborated. For example, neither the type of ferry nor the timetable has been detailed by Canary Island authorities or the shipping company. Depending on the type of vessel chosen, the journey could take anything from two and a half hour to four hours, President Martín noted.