By Javier Otazu
Casablanca, Morocco, Apr 4 (efe-epa).- Almost 1,200 Spaniards or residents of Spain on Sunday boarded a ship or an aircraft chartered as part of a special mechanism to repatriate the roughly 4,000 people who remained stranded in Morocco when the Arab country last Tuesday closed its airspace to Spain for health reasons.
The Balearia ferry set sail from the port of Tanger Med en route for Algeciras with 800 passengers on board shortly after 4:30 am local time, while at almost the same time an Iberia Airlines jet carrying 348 passengers departed from Casablanca for Madrid.
The announcement of the suspension of flights to and from Spain – and also France – affected some 4,000 Spaniards who were on vacation in Morocco for Holy Week.
Among those stranded in the North African nation were surfers in Dakhla, in the southern part of the Western Sahara, adventurers in the Merzuga dunes and even travel groups organized to tour the “imperial cities” circuit, all of whom had to revamp their return travel plans, in some cases moving them up markedly and in others delaying them.
As soon as the cancellation of flights was announced, the Spanish Embassy in Morocco launched efforts to negotiate with local authorities extraordinary measures to get its citizens back home, and so far arrangements include two ferries – one belonging to the Balearia line and the other from Transmediterranea, the latter to depart next Tuesday – and one aircraft.
Iberia initially scheduled a flight for 200 passengers, but once the avalanche in demand was noted, it changed the original aircraft for an Airbus 350, the largest in its fleet, Juan Carlos Alvarez – the airline’s general director for Africa, who was present at the Casablanca airport to supervise the operation – told EFE.
Among the airplane passengers, the general feeling was one of relief, although everyone said they regretted the amount of money they had had to pay unexpectedly to get new PCR tests, spend additional nights in hotels or book transportation to get to Casablanca in time for the flight.
“Imagine,” said Nicolas, a Madrid surfing enthusiast, “this has cost me 400 euros (some $480) in extra expenses, which is what I had anticipated for my full stay in Dakhla.”
The flight provided on Easter Sunday does not resemble at all the repatriation flights mounted in 2020, also from Casablanca and from the port of Tangiers. At that time, “humanitarian” cases received priority, along with ill people or people needing costly medical treatment, pregnant women or families who had been separated by the quarantine.
On the journeys back to Spain on Sunday, most of the people were Spaniards who had traveled to Morocco taking advantage of the fact that it’s easier to exit Spain than to travel within it, and Morocco until last week had unrolled the red carpet for European tourists just as its tourist sector, which is crucial as a job creator and foreign currency earning source, had begun to go under after a year of economic bludgeoning.
In Morocco, mobility restrictions are practically nonexistent for tourists, except for the nighttime curfews in all cities, and that has allowed the gradual return of travelers from Europe, which is the main tourist-sending source for the North African nation.
Morocco closed its airspace to Spain and France to try and limit the spread of the new coronavirus strains from Europe.
A total of almost 498,000 people have been infected with Covid-19 in Morocco, of whom 8,842 have died, while 4.3 million Moroccans have received their first dose of a vaccine and 3.8 million have received their full two-dose series.