France and Morocco, two friendly maritime nations. – By Annick Girardin, French Minister of the sea

On a clear day, travellers are dreaming of the shores of Morocco that appear on the horizon from Gibraltar. Its name, of Arabic origin, reveals the history that links our country to the Moroccan people. Arsenal, admiral, avarie, felouque, those maritime words of Arabic origin remind us that our relations also have a taste of salt water.

The geographical situation of Morocco has made it the link between Africa and Europe. The Strait of Gibraltar, gateway to the maritime route to Europe, provides Morocco with an eminently strategic position in the Mediterranean.

But our proximity is not just a matter of geography. Like France, Morocco’s multi-secular heritage, blessed with a dual maritime shoreline, was shaped by the people who traded there by sea. Like France, the beauty of the Moroccan coastline is a gift for tourists from all over the world. And like France, the skills of its seafarers have been patiently cultivated over the centuries. Morocco is even a model for gender equality in the maritime sector with one third of the staff being comprised of women. Moroccan women also hold management positions in the sectors of fishing and ports.

Today, France and Morocco reaffirm a privileged and renewed relationship, as symbolized by the official visit of the President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron, to Morocco on June 14 and 15, 2017, his first international visit following his election. King Mohammed VI also chose France for his first state visit abroad in March 2000.

The Mediterranean Sea is at the heart of the Franco-Moroccan maritime friendship. Preserving and exploiting it sustainably is the vocation of the Coalition for an exemplary Mediterranean by 2030, launched at the One Planet Summit on January 11, 2021. In September, participating nations will meet in Marseille at the World Conservation Congress of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to adopt the Coalition. I hope that Morocco, which has been very active and constructive during the discussions, will be among the signatories. Emphasis should be placed on concrete projects such as the electrification of ports, enhanced management of marine protected areas or major water purification projects.

The debate needs to be open, involving all the Mediterranean countries, to carry out projects both ambitious and achievable by all.

“Morocco belongs to the narrow club of states catching more than 1 million tons of fish per year.” Annick Girardin. Photo: DR.

I will notably underline the issues of fishing and sustainable aquaculture. Fishing remains one of the major components of the Moroccan economy. Morocco belongs to the narrow club of states catching more than 1 million tons of fish per year. Despite the fact that catches dropped in 2020 due to the pandemic, Morocco remains the leading fishing state on the African continent, with volumes that exceed those of Spain or France.  

I will also focus on sustainable maritime transport. For example, the ECAMED zone must be implemented to reduce pollution caused by maritime transport; Morocco was one of the first countries to join us in this reflection. We must also adopt decarbonization measures at the International Maritime Organization. Again, I welcome Morocco’s commitment to our side in the adoption of medium and long-term measures.

A blue economy community has emerged within the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM). The new statement adopted in 2020 on the blue economy evolved into Sustainable Development Goal 14, which focuses on the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans. The OuestMED Initiative symbolizes this community, in which Morocco and France are partners, with Morocco co-chairing the Initiative in 2019 with France, and in 2020 with Italy.

Morocco is also an active contributor to the West MOPoCo project, coordinated in France by the General Secretariat of the Sea. This initiative aims at reinforcing the fight against pollution in the Western Mediterranean, notably in terms of emergency responses to oil pollution at sea.

I am deeply convinced that the sea is a formidable opportunity for the future of our youth. It provides solutions, jobs, and new challenges by allowing the transition of many activities from land to sea.

The Royal Moroccan Naval School and the French Naval School maintain close relations and many Moroccan officers have been trained at the Naval Base of Lanvéoc-Poulmic.  Following the Summit of the Two Shores in Marseille in June 2019, the dialogue between the two sides is continuing in this respect with the partners of the “5+5”, including Morocco.

The 14th High-Level Meeting between France and Morocco on December 19, 2019 allowed to consolidate cooperation between our two countries. With 400 million euros annually, Morocco is the first beneficiary of the French Development Agency (AFD). Several maritime initiatives are focused on sustainable fisheries and the rehabilitation of ports, including support for the Halieutis program for upgrading the equipment of the National Fisheries Office (ONP) to sanitary standards and financial support for the investment program of the National Ports Agency. The recent opening of the Marseille/Tangier line reinforced the partnership between the ports of Marseille, France’s leading port, and Tangier, Morocco’s leading container port. Operated by the company La Méridionale, combining freight and passengers, this new route is a relevant alternative to road traffic and contributes to reduce congestion in the Spanish port of Algeciras.

Let us also mention the outstanding cooperation between the Shom (Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service of the French Navy) and the hydrographic, oceanographic and cartographic division of the Royal Moroccan Navy. This partnership was further developed with the collaboration on the specification and commissioning of the installations of the Dar al Beida, a hydro-oceanographic vessel built by the Piriou shipyard and delivered to the Royal Moroccan Navy in 2018.

Lastly, Morocco and France shared the chairmanship of the Mediterranean forum of coastguard operations in 2018 (in Marseille) and 2019 (in Casablanca), making Morocco a regional reference for West Africa in the field of maritime search and rescue.

The ocean is vast and largely unknown; it is a territory of exploration that remains relatively uninvested by man. The great Moroccan explorer Ibn Battuta, who travelled 120,000 kilometres in the 14th century, is an exemplary figure of these intrepid pioneers, symbols of self-surpassing, bravery, and capable of being amazed by the discovery of the unknown.  They should still be a source of inspiration for us.

Let us together be curious enriching ourselves with the experience of meeting each other and diversity!

“The geographical situation of Morocco has made it the link between Africa and Europe.” Annick Girardin. Photo: INRH.

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