Cablegate: Morocco: Port Security in Our Time?

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A) RABAT 0485, B) 04 RABAT 1211

1. (U) Summary: Morocco is taking its port security
obligations seriously, and efforts are underway at ports
nationwide to bring security infrastructure up to the level
required by the International Maritime Organization's ISPS
port security code. Observation at several Atlantic ports
confirm that Moroccan port authorities are constructing
guarded barriers around the commercial cargo sections of
international ports and installing millions of dollars worth
of cargo and passenger scanning equipment. Most of these
endeavors will be finished this summer. But the GOM still
has gaps to fill in its port defenses (literally in some
cases), especially in the area of personnel access control.
The GOM has asked for assistance from the United States in
creating a badging system that will allow police to
effectively screen people entering and exiting port
facilities (Ref A). Corruption among port security guards
may also be a problem. End Summary.

2. (U) A glance at the map shows the importance of ports to
the Moroccan economy. Surrounded by the sea to the north
and west, with the 1,000-mile closed land border with
Algeria to the east and the sands of the Sahara to the
south, Morocco is - commercially - almost an island. As a
consequence, a full 98 percent of Moroccan trade passes
through its sea ports.

3. (U) Econoff and FSN traveled to central and southern
Morocco to visit three of the country's principal Atlantic
coast ports: Jorf Lasfar, Safi and Agadir. These three
ports, in addition to Casablanca, handle the lion's share of
international cargo traffic as well as the country's largest
fishing fleets. Managerial responsibility over these ports
is shared between the Port Commandant, in charge of security
and safety as well as overall command of shipping
operations; and the Office of Ports Exploitation (ODEP),
which runs port commercial operations on behalf of the
state. ODEP, which is slated for a major reorganization
under a bill currently in parliament (septel), finances the
International Maritime Organization's (IMO) ISPS upgrades
underway in Morocco.

Jorf Lasfar - Port of Yellow Cliffs

4. (U) The industrial port of Jorf Lasfar (Yellow Cliffs in
Arabic) was built in 1974 to handle traffic to and from a
nearby coal-fired energy plant and an adjacent phosphates
plant owned by national phosphates firm OCP. Commercial
operations began in 1982, when the port moved 64,000 tons of
cargo; in 2005, 12 million tons will transit the port's 14
quays, making Jorf Lasfar the second largest port in Morocco
by volume after Casablanca.

5. (SBU) The Jorf Lasfar port is enclosed by a 10-foot
barbed fence that surrounds the fishing port, administrative
buildings and international commercial quays. To meet IMO
ISPS requirements, the international cargo section was
walled off from the rest of the port in January 2005 by an
eight-foot cement wall topped by two feet of concertina
wire. Port authorities have also closed off each individual
quay with controlled access barriers staffed by private
security hired by the individual pier operators.

6. (SBU) Jorf Lasfar Commandant Mohamed Hamzaoui told
Econoff the ISPS Code is "80 percent implemented," pending
the completion of a second entry gate under construction
roughly 100 meters past the first gate where the commercial
port begins. Hamzaoui expects the second gate to be
finished by the end of April 2005. He said the only other
pending action is to sign a contract on a tender issued in
early March for a roving security force that will patrol 24
hours a day within the port.

It's Okay, We Have Another Gate

7. (SBU) Jorf Lasfar is relatively easy to secure in that is
located 20 km from the nearest sizable town, physically
separated from any inhabited areas by a high yellow cliff,
and has a relatively small fishing section attached to it,
minimizing the flow of pedestrians in and around port
facilities. In spite of this, gaps remain. The main gate
is tightly controlled for identification, but there is no
badge system or database for comparing IDs. Econoff noticed
a 20-foot section of fencing near the main gate was broken
and lying on the ground. Econoff pointed this out to Port
Commandant Hamzaoui, who at first professed ignorance of the
gap and then barked at an assistant to find out when it
would be fixed. The assistant reported that maintenance
crews knew about the breach and money had been budgeted to
repair it. "Anyway," Hamzaoui said, "the broken section of
fence doesn't really matter - we are building the second
line of defense [the second guarded gate] past that point."
Econoff pointed out that with such a large gap in the fence
the "second" gate would really serve as the "first" line of
defense, to no response.


8. (U) A weather-worn industrial town of 300,000 on
Morocco's central coast, Safi was once home to the world's
largest sardine fishing fleet. The fourth largest Moroccan
port in terms of volume, Safi suffers from aging
infrastructure and its proximity to the city itself.
Shantytowns completely surround one side of the port, and
the fishing terminal, with its 1,300 artisinal boats, is
virtually part of the medina, or old city, of Safi.

9. (SBU) To close off this section of the port to the public
would be political suicide in a town which has survived -
and until the 1980's, thrived - on fishing. Managers
instead chose to leave the artisinal fishing port open to
the public, and in order to satisfy ISPS requirements,
walled off the international cargo section with a 10-foot
cement barrier that effectively sections off the still-pubic
fishing port from the quays that handle international
commercial traffic.

10. (SBU) Since work on ISPS upgrades began in 2003, ODEP
has spent over $620,000 on physical infrastructure and
lighting in Safi port. Operators have upgraded perimeter
fencing, built a small police post inside the port, and
mounted new lighting inside and around the perimeter. New
customs and police buildings have been constructed just
outside the main gate, which will be inaugurated later this
year. The port authority has purchased five video
surveillance cameras which - by June 2005 - will be
positioned around the exterior of the commercial section of
the port and monitored from a central location in the police
office within the port's main gate.

11. (SBU) In January 2005 the port authority installed 48,
800-watt lights along the length of the main jetty at Safi.
Eight guard houses were positioned within and around the
international cargo docks and are manned 24 hours a day.
Port Commandant Abderrahim Houir Alami has ordered that
three huge ammonia storage tanks, used to hold imported
ammonia destined for Safi's OCP phosphates plant on the far
side of town, be kept minimally stocked, for security
reasons brought to his attention by the ISPS Code.

12. (SBU) An access road encircling the north side of the
port was widened in November 2004, and 60-foot lighting
towers added around the exterior. Previously the road was a
dark and muddy lane that attracted a shady collection of
characters. Now the widened road and the high-intensity
lights have converted the area into a place less conducive
to illicit activity and easier to surveil.

13. (SBU) However, security at Safi is not air-tight. The
external wall surrounding the port complex is a 12-foot
cement pillared fence, difficult to climb but easy to pass
things through. Econoff witnessed people passing things
through the gaps in the pillars, and, while touring the port
with port managers, saw a construction worker scale the
wall. Port Commandant Houir Alami conceded that the wall
was not infallible, but said police patrols and the
surveillance cameras soon to be installed would prevent
people from sneaking in. Finally, pedestrians continue to
walk freely in and out of the fishing section of Safi port
today. Vehicles are checked, but port authorities' claim
that pedestrians are not checked because they are "known" to
police officials manning the front gate is not credible.


14. (U) The modern and well-organized port of Agadir sits at
the bottom of a hill separating it from the rest of the
city. A military post commands a perfect view down onto the
port installations. The port is divided into four sections:
a shipyard, a large fishing port, a pleasure harbor for
yachts and cruise ships, and the commercial port.

15. (SBU) A 12-foot perimeter wall surrounds the entire port
complex, with just one entry gate guarded by police and
customs officers. The busy fishing port is essentially a
public place, with no effective system of access or
identification control. Cars and mopeds are stopped for
identification, but there was no list or database for cross-
check of IDs, and pedestrians are allowed to pass
unhindered. ODEP Director Driss El Hidani said the police
don't ask for ID because they know everyone by sight, but
considering the volume of foot traffic flowing through the
gates, this is unlikely.

16. (SBU) To bring Agadir up to ISPS standards, in January
2005 authorities walled off the international commercial
section from the rest of the port with an eight-foot cement
wall covered with metal barbs. The new wall surrounding
Agadir's commercial port stands in sharp contrast with
observations made by Econcouns during a July 2004 visit (Ref
B). There is additional fencing with individual ID
checkpoints surrounding the petroleum terminal and the cargo
storage facility. A team of police, customs and ODEP
officers conduct roving patrols inside the port 24 hours a

17. (SBU) A multi-million dollar Chinese-made cargo scanner
will arrive in Agadir in April and be installed by end of
May (Ref A). It will be used by customs officials to
examine both incoming and outgoing container traffic on an
ad hoc percentage basis according to the existing threat
level. Agadir has already received three other scanning
units: a baggage scanner, a walk-through metal detector for
passengers, and an itemizer that will be used to sweep
suspicious items for explosives and drugs. This equipment
will be installed when the second entry post is completed,
and will be operated by the local police. When the port is
in category I (normal) status, the scanners will be used on
an ad hoc basis. When the port or an arriving ship are
elevated to category II (alert) status, all passengers and
baggage will be checked. ODEP uses movable cement barriers
and empty cargo containers to build additional temporary
enclosures on an ad hoc basis around ships that arrive in an
elevated security posture (sensitive cargo, passengers or

18. (SBU) ODEP director El Hidani told Econoff the new ISPS
requirements have done him a great service. Before ISPS
implementation began the port had troubles with stowaways,
theft and misplaced cargo due to the flow of people milling
freely inside the international section. The mandate that
came with the ISPS Code (and the state money to implement
it) has solved many of these problems.

Emigrants, not Dirty Bombs

19. (SBU) Port authorities in Jorf Lasfar and Safi - ports
which handle little or no containerized traffic - confided
to Econoff that their greatest security concern is
preventing illegal emigrants from boarding ships as
stowaways, not the export of dangerous materials for use in
international terrorism. There is a fairly significant
stowaway problem from Moroccan ports, mostly Moroccans and
sub-Saharan Africans seeking passage to European ports of
call. Seven would-be emigrants were detected in Safi last
year, and Jorf Lasfar Commandant Hamzaoui told Econoff one
or two stowaways are caught trying to board through his port
each month.

20. (SBU) The stowaway problem proves that Morocco's ports
are not air-tight. Port authorities spoke at length of the
infallibility of the exterior fences surrounding their
ports, and did not seem to appreciate (or accept) the
obvious contradiction between their claims of an airtight
system and the regular discovery of stowaways in port.

21. (SBU) Since the fences are for the most part in good
shape - with the exception of a small section near the
police post in Jorf Lasfar - any stowaway activity would
either be the result of corruption among security forces
guarding the exterior, or human error. Port authorities
refused to concede that security services would
intentionally allow people to pass on a systemic basis, but
did acknowledge that occasional opportunistic corruption may

How We Can Help

22. (SBU) Moroccan port authorities clearly understand the
requirements of the IMO's ISPS Code and have made great
efforts to comply with them. ISPS is not just a paper
exercise between Rabat and the IMO, and coordination between
local port committees and administrators in Rabat is
excellent. Even the Wali (governor) of the province of
Safi, several times removed from the process of ISPS
implementation, demonstrated in a meeting with Econoff that
he was aware in intricate detail of what was required of
Safi and Jorf Lasfar ports and the status of the works

23. (SBU) Port authorities say the ISPS upgrades have helped
them control theft and deter stowaways. They seem to have
significant funding, as evidenced by the recent purchase of
several million dollars worth of scanning equipment and the
upgrades in fencing, gates and other physical infrastructure
Econoff witnessed at the ports of Jorf Lasfar, Safi and
Agadir. And despite the "don't worry we have a second gate"
approach to the ISPS Code taken by the commandant at Jorf
Lasfar, the vast majority of Moroccan authorities get the
message on port security.

24. (SBU) What remains is to create a solid system for
personnel access control, and to train security personnel to
use it. The creation of an ID or badging system is
essential, and training in perimeter control would also be
useful. As any system is only as good as the people
operating it, anti-corruption training would be a good
complement. Post will work with port authorities to explore
ways we may be able to assist.

© Scoop Media

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