Maritime travel between Morocco and Spain resumes after two-year hiatus

Maritime traffic between Spain and Morocco is set to resume Tuesday following the normalisation of diplomatic relations between the two countries, Rabat's transport ministry said.

Maritime travel between Morocco and Spain resumes after two-year hiatus
Container cranes at terminal I of the Tanger Med port in the northern city of Tangiers on the Strait of Gibraltar. (Photo by AFP)

Embroiled in a dispute with Spain over the territory of Western Sahara, Morocco upheld the blockade between some of the largest ports on the Mediterranean for over two years.

The busy, but short, 14-kilometre (nine-mile) route across the Strait of Gibraltar had originally been shut in March 2020 when Morocco severed transport links with Europe over the Covid-19 pandemic.

The maritime borders reopened last summer — but connections between Tangiers and Spain’s Algeciras and Tarifa ports have remained cut.

“Shipping companies will gradually resume their passenger services between the Moroccan ports of Tangier Med and Tangier-City and the Spanish ports of Algeciras and Tarifa,” the transport ministry said in a statement.

While passenger and shipping traffic is scheduled to resume on Tuesday, motorists will have to wait until April 18.

In March, Spain and Morocco began repairing diplomatic ties after Madrid ended a decades-long stance of neutrality over the disputed territory of Western Sahara and agreed to publicly support Rabat’s autonomy plan for the region.

After Spanish colonial forces withdrew in 1975, Morocco fought a bitter war with the Polisario independence movement before reaching a ceasefire in 1991, on the promise of a referendum on self-determination.

But in November 2020, the Polisario declared the ceasefire null and void after Morocco sent in troops to forcibly reopen a highway running through Western Sahara to neighbouring Mauritania.

Spain’s decision to recognise Morocco’s claims to the territory infuriated regional rival Algeria, which has long backed the Polisario and also supplies large quantities of natural gas to Spain.

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Spain and New Zealand to increase number of working holiday visas

The governments of Spain and New Zealand have announced plans to increase the working holiday visa schemes between the two countries, meaning that more young people will now be able to apply.

Spain and New Zealand to increase number of working holiday visas

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden announced the expansion of the Working Holiday or Youth Mobility Scheme after their meeting in Madrid held on Tuesday, ahead of the NATO Summit.

The increase means that 2,000 Spaniards and the same number of Kiwis will now be able to benefit from the scheme. This is 10 times more than the 200 visas currently available for each country. 

Those aged between 18 and 30 are eligible for the visa, which allows New Zealanders to come to Spain for one year to work for up to six months and travel or study and train for the other six months.

The only caveats are that you can’t accept a permanent job or work for the same employer for more than three months and you must prove that you have sufficient savings to live on. You are also not allowed to apply if you have any dependent children.

The same conditions apply to young Spaniards wanting to work and travel in New Zealand. 

The application process for 2022 is currently closed but will open again in 2023, with the increased number of visas available for each country.

“I am delighted to announce a boost to our Working Holiday Scheme with Spain. These schemes create opportunities for young New Zealanders to develop their skills and work experience while travelling and living in Spain,” Ardern said in a statement after the meeting.

“These changes reflect the strength of the relationship between Spain and New Zealand,” she added.

During their meeting, Sánchez and Arden also agreed on the need for a Free Trade Agreement between New Zealand and the EU, creating opportunities for both New Zealand and Spanish businesses, as well as a plan to work together on a new seabird conservation project.

Other subjects discussed by the two leaders included a Global Values Partnership, committing to work closely on areas to strengthen democracy, sustainability, human rights and the rule of law, as well as Russia and the war in Ukraine.

Sánchez said that the partnership will serve to “build more inclusive societies, greener economies and more resilient democracies”.

“Meeting with President Sánchez was a chance to reaffirm our countries’ commitment to working together, and alongside others, to maintain international peace and security, and the rules-based order. It is fitting that our meeting took place in the lead-up to the NATO Summit,” Ardern said.