Saturday, May 28, 2005

Gibraltar and Algeciras explore direct Ferry link

Port and maritime officials from Gibraltar and Algeciras will explore the possibility of establishing a direct ferry link across the bay.

That was one of the key points discussed at a landmark meeting in Algeciras yesterday, held as part of the Los Barrios process.

Officials at the meeting said private companies had already expressed interest in the ferry project and would submit plans for consideration and approval.

They also highlighted forthcoming efforts to foster tighter cross-border cooperation on crucial concerns such as environmental protection and navigational safety in the bay.

Yesterday’s meeting was the first encounter of its kind, one that marked the beginning of a closer relationship between both ports.

“This is an important day in the history of the ports of Algeciras and Gibraltar, for the simple reason that this meeting should have taken place a long time ago, but for a number of reasons this didn’t happen,” said Joe Holliday, minister for trade, industry and communications, at a press conference in Algeciras.

The meeting was significant, not least because previous attempts to arrange formal discussions on maritime and port issues had run into political problems. But there was no mention of politics yesterday, or of the usual controversies over bunkering and pollution in the bay.

The message was one of “normality”, of two ports that co-existed in close proximity and were finally working together to mutual benefit. Top of the list was environmental protection and navigational safety. The need for closer ties in this area was thrown into sharp relief by an incident in the bay last September, when the cruise ship Van Gogh, sailing out of Gibraltar, collided with the tanker Spetses as it sailed into Algeciras in thick fog.

A working group will be set up to establish safety protocols and procedures, both in the event of an accident and, perhaps more importantly, to avoid one in the first place.

“It’s important to have cooperation between both ports in this area, not only in terms of tackling an accident that might occur in either port, but also to develop a prevention plan,” Mr Holliday said.

Manuel Morón, president of the Algeciras Port Authority, stressed that the focus of this work must be on both “preventive and corrective” measures, though there were no details at this stage of any specific initiatives.

Both men also drew attention to a proposal to establish a ferry link between Gibraltar and Algeciras.

Although there was no hint of any timescale, the emphasis on this project left little doubt that officials were keen to see it happen.

“I believe that there is now a commitment on both sides to try and find a solution and the means to put this in place in the short term,” Mr Holliday said.

“I think this would be of great importance for the commercial development of the region as a whole.”

A second working group will be formed to explore areas of technical and commercial cooperation at port authority level, something that is also likely to eventually include other ports in the Strait of Gibraltar.

Next year, as part of its centenary celebrations, Algeciras will host the first meeting of ports in the Strait, at which some of these issues will be discussed. Mr Morón said that it was important to involve the private sector in the initiatives to bring both ports closer together, though many shipping companies are already one step ahead of the authorities in that they already operate on either side of the bay.

Yesterday’s meeting, described by Mr Holliday as “pleasant and productive”, will provide a solid foundation on which to build. There were no earth-shattering announcements to be made, but the commitment on both sides was clearly evident.

“This was not about reaching agreement on any of these issues, but simply to make clear the willingness on both sides to proceed working on these areas of common interest in the future,” Mr Morón concluded.

After the discussions, the officials toured the Spanish port and witnessed at first hand the massive expansion that is currently under way there.

Algeciras is the busiest port in Spain in terms of tonnage throughput, handling 65.7 million tonnes of cargo last year.

Before the summer, a delegation of port officials from the Spanish port will visit the Rock for tour of local port facilities. A second high-level meeting will probably be scheduled for some time in the autumn. Between now and then, the working groups will draw up a number of concrete initiatives for consideration.

Attending as part of the Gibraltar delegation at yesterday’s meeting were Richard Garcia, chief executive at the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Communications; Flavio Madeira, Mr Holliday’s private secretary; James Ferro, Captain of the Port and Stephen Ramagge, Gibraltar’s coordinator under the Los Barrios process.

In the Algeciras delegation were José Luis Hormaechea Escós, director of the port authority; Karim Breir Moreno, head of the maritime safety service at the Capitanía Marítima in Algeciras; and Eduardo Villalba Gil, chief secretary at the presidency office of the Algeciras port authority.

Also present at yesterday’s discussion were Juan Montedeoca Márquez, president of the Mancomunidad de Municipios del Campo de Gibraltar, accompanied by José Manuel Alcántara Pérez, managing director of the same body.

Related Links:

Algeciras Port Authority

Gibraltar Regulatory Authority

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