Algeria smuggling crackdown cuts fuel line to Morocco

Updated 28 December 2013
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Algeria smuggling crackdown cuts fuel line to Morocco

OUJDA, Morocco: Until three months ago, petrol smuggling literally drove Morocco’s neglected eastern region, where the subsidized liquid smuggled in from Algeria fueled the local economy.
But in June, Algiers took drastic measures to curtail the illegal trade, clamping down on traffic across its border with Morocco, which has officially been closed since 1994.
“Since the Algerians shut the border my car hasn’t budged,” one Moroccan resident of the area told AFP.
The unofficial cross-border movement of people and goods has long been a feature of daily life here, with members of the same families living either side of the divide and much money to be made from contraband.
Algiers beefed up its border controls in a bid to stem the haemorrhaging of cheap Algerian fuel, through which the state was losing $1.3 billion a year, according to energy ministry figures.
Before the clampdown, some 600,000 cars were estimated to be running on Algerian fuel smuggled into neighboring countries, notably Morocco.
It remains unclear what prompted the move by Algiers, although it coincided with an outburst of particularly hostile rhetoric from senior officials in both countries.
In energy-rich Algeria, petrol and diesel cost as little as 23 dinars (0.23 euros) and 13.4 dinars (0.13 euros) a liter respectively.
By contrast, its western neighbor and regional arch-rival imports virtually all its energy needs, with motorists paying more than one euro for a liter of petrol.
So the Algiers move had serious implications for the Oriental region of Morocco, as it is known, with its population of more than two million.
“My car carried up to one ton of diesel, two or three times a week. Today it’s good for nothing,” complained one man in his 30s, sipping tea near the Zouj-Bghal border post.
Since acceding to the throne in 1999, King Mohamed VI has sought to promote development in the remote region, launching projects from factories to infrastructure, including a motorway connecting Oujda to the capital Rabat, 520 kilometers (320 miles) away.
But decades of neglect and its remote location, far from Morocco’s commercial centers on the Atlantic coast, have made the region heavily dependent on covert trade — and remittances from Moroccans living abroad.
The first painful consequence of Algeria’s new policy was a jump in contraband fuel prices, 30-liter cans of diesel nearly tripling in price and fares charged by the ubiquitous white Mercedes taxis rising with it, by 20 percent.
“We are fed up with this situation. One day we’re going to take over the streets with our cars and block everything,” said Fathi Miri, one of thousands of taxi drivers now struggling to survive.
Because of the reinforced border controls, and ditches that smugglers say have been dug by the Algerian authorities since June, the only viable way to haul goods across the border now is by donkey.
Loaded with jerrycans, the pack animals travel after dusk in their hundreds, through olive groves and along steep winding paths that they follow instinctively, transporting their precious cargo.
But it can be a dangerous journey.
“The Algerian army recently fired at some donkeys and killed them. Fortunately they were unaccompanied on the Algerian side,” said one Moroccan living near the border.
But given the new challenges to transporting fuel, some smugglers have turned to people trafficking.
“I help Moroccans into Algeria and Algerians into Morocco,” said one.
“I get 300 dirhams (28 euros) for each client transported across the border. But with the onset of winter, there will be no one,” he added.
Until Algeria tightened its border controls, more than 18,000 people lived off fuel smuggling, said Hassan Ammari of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH), who questions what they will do now.
As a stopgap measure, the Moroccan government is sending around 700 tons of fuel to the region daily.
But this is a drop in the ocean, compared with the 300,000 tons that used to arrive from Algeria, said Mohamed Benkaddor, president of the region’s consumer protection association.
Oujda’s Islamist MP Abdelaziz Aftati, contacted by AFP, called for an official reopening of the border, which has been closed at considerable cost to both sides since 1994, after a guerrilla attack on a hotel in Marrakesh which Rabat blamed on Algerian intelligence.
“Cooperation between our two countries is necessary, whatever the differences,” Aftati said.
However, this view does not seem to resonate in Algeria, where government officials earlier this month hailed the clampdown on smuggling, saying it was starting to “bear fruit.”


Sabotage of oil tankers stirs concerns over Gulf shipping

Updated 22 May 2019
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Sabotage of oil tankers stirs concerns over Gulf shipping

  • The acts of sabotage near the UAE coast highlight new threat to maritime traffic and global oil supplies
  • Experts say increased threat to navigation and global oil supplies not limited regionally but has global dimension

DUBAI: Amid rising tensions between the US and Iran, sabotage attacks on four commercial vessels off the coast of the UAE’s Fujairah port have raised serious questions about maritime security in the Gulf.

The incidents, which included attacks on two Saudi oil tankers, were revealed by the UAE government on May 12, drawing strong condemnation from governments in the Middle East and around the world as well as the Arab League.

Now experts have warned that the sabotage attacks highlight a new threat to maritime traffic and global oil supplies.

A Saudi government source said: “This criminal act constitutes a serious threat to the security and safety of maritime navigation, and adversely affects regional and international peace and security.”

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) said the incidents threatened international maritime traffic.

While crimes on the high seas, including piracy, have tapered off in recent years, the attacks on the ships, three of which are registered to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have called into question common assumptions about the Gulf’s stability.

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Theodore Karasik, a senior adviser at Gulf State Analytics in Washington D.C., said governments of the Gulf region are mandated to watch over oceans and waterways. “On top of this requirement is the need for a new regime of maritime coordination to prevent attacks on shipping because of the repercussions for logistical chains, corporate strategies and insurance rates,” he told Arab News.

The sabotage attacks took place east of Fujairah port, outside the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow waterway through which most Gulf oil exports pass and which Iran has threatened to block in the event of a military confrontation with the US.

Johan Obdola, president of the International Organization for Security and Intelligence, said the recent attacks underscore the need for closer intelligence-coordinated capabilities among the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, including satellite communication and maritime or vessel security technology.

“The threats to oil tankers are not limited to the Gulf, but have a global dimension,” he said.

According to Obdola: “A coordinated joint task force integrating oil, intelligence security and military forces should be (established) to project and prepare (for potential future attacks). This is a time to be as united as ever.”

GCC countries have intensified security in international waters, the US navy said. Additionally, two US guided-missile destroyers entered the Gulf on May 16 in response to what the US called signs of possible Iranian aggression.

“The attack has brought (the region) a bit closer to a possible military confrontation amid the escalation in tensions between the US and Iran,” Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a former chairman of the Arab Council for Social Sciences, told Arab News.

He said Iran is purposely dragging Saudi Arabia, the UAE and possibly other Gulf countries into its fight with the US. “The credibility of the US is at stake and Trump has said he will meet any aggression with unrelenting force. If Iran continues on this path, we might see some kind of a military showdown on a limited scale.”

Given the importance of the region’s oil supplies to the US, Abdulla said “it’s not just the responsibility of Arab Gulf states but an international responsibility” to keep the shipping lanes safe.