Keeping an Eye on the Strait of Gibraltar

TALIM Cap Spartel On Saturday 11 December HM King Mohammed VI inaugurated the Tangier maritime traffic control centre (CSTM), which will contribute to improving maritime traffic efficiency and protecting the environment in the Gibraltar Strait.  The Tangier centre is the first in the Arab world and Africa to be mandated by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) as a "Coastal Vessel Traffic Service" with a mandatory ship reporting system.

MAP – Maghreb Arabe Presse [Morocco's wire service]

In case you are not convinced on the significance of the Strait, the same article provides some numbers:

The Strait of Gibraltar has the second highest density of traffic in the world, just behind that of Malacca in Singapore. Every year, over 100,000 trade vessels transit the Strait, over a third of which (300 vessels per day) transport hazardous materials.  Traffic is also expected to grow sharply over the coming years, especially due to the climb of the Tanger-Med's activity.

This is not the first "first" for Morocco in the realm of international maritime security.  Here's what was agreed by Morocco and a consortium of "Powers" (including the United States) in the Cap Spartel Treaty of May 31, 1865:

His Majesty Sherifienne, having an interest in humanity, ordered the construction, at the expense of the Government of Morocco, of a lighthouse at Cape Spartel, consents to devolve, throughout the duration of the present convention, the superior direction and administration of this establishment on the representatives of the contracting Powers.

When then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright established in January 2001 the Culturally Significant Properties program, of which the American Legation in Tangier is the oldest property, she noted that "the Cap Spartel treaty, negotiated inside the American Legation, reflects major international law principles and is considered as the forerunner to documents that led to the creation of the League of Nations and eventually the United Nations."

Since the 18th century, Moroccan sovereigns have taken steps to engage internationally through maritime commerce.  Here's what Priscilla Roberts and James Tull wrote in the September/October 1998 issue of Aramco World Magazine on Sultan Sidi Muhammad ibn 'Abd Allah and his overtures to Revolutionary-era America:

Sidi Muhammad—a reformer who saw greater benefits for his country in maritime trade with Europe than in traditional overland trade with the Sahara and sub-Saharan Africa—had already signed trade treaties with all the major nations of Europe. He had also built a new port on Morocco's Atlantic coast, called al-Suwayra (Essaouira) by the Moroccans and Mogador by the Europeans, to receive the increased trade that resulted.

Like his 18th century predecessor, King Mohammed VI has built a new port, Tanger-Med, to engage with world trade.  Now he has a state-of-the-art maritime control center to match.

[Photo credits:  Above, Cap Spartel December 11, 2010 by Jay Nixon;  Below, historic postcard via Klaus Huelse]

Gerald Loftus

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