Royal Moroccan Navy
The Royal Moroccan Navy has always operated essentially in a coast guard role. Its mission required that it provide assistance gainst external naval threats and a capability to deal with internal security matters affecting coastal areas and territorial waters. Formed in 1960, the navy has relied primarily on France for its equipment and technical training, although some assistance has been provided by Spain. In early 1985 its leading officer, Commander Tahcan Duhirra, was inspector of the navy and took his instructions directly from the palace.
Morocco, which is the only African country having both the Mediterranean and Atlantic coastlines, is continuously modernizing its naval defense capabilities to protect its water and deter enemies. The Royal Moroccan Navy, including a marine force, is deployed from five bases at Casablanca, Agadir, Al Hoceima, Dakhla, and Tangier. By 2015 the navy inventory includes two frigates, four missile craft, 23 patrol craft, four amphibious vehicles, and four support craft. Naval aviation had two helicopters.
In March 2008 King Mohammed VI of Morocco, Supreme Commander and Chief of Staff of the Royal Armed Forces (FAR), launched the construction works of a USD 186.8 Mn naval base in the northern city of Ksar Sghir. The new facility, which is expected to be operational by 2010, is meant to modernize the Royal Navy in terms of equipment and living conditions, and provides for building barracks and housing units for the Navy staff. This project, to be funded in partnership with the Administration of National Defence, the Ministry of Equipment and Transport and the Ministry of Economy and Finance, is the first military port of the Kingdom on the Mediterranean, according to a press release of the FAR press service. It will serve as a home base for the ships of the Royal Navy in charge of protecting Morocco's northern coasts, says the document, stressing that thanks to its strategic position, the naval base will have a central role in sea patrolling operations of the Royal Navy.
Operating from bases at Casablanca, Safi, Agadir, Kenitra, and Tangier, the navy has acquired new equipment designed to expand its operational capabilities. The Moroccan Navy has become a growing and important partner with the U.S. Navy in Europe and Africa and has been a major participant in the U.S. Navy led annual multi-country exercise Phoenix Express, as well as a joint maritime law enforcement operation held in July 2009.
The navy's responsibilities for coastal protection were significantly broadened in 1973 when Morocco increased the limits of its territorial waters to 70 nautical miles. Further pressures were put upon the service in 1981, when the government adopted an Exclusive Economic Zone and restricted the ability of foreign fishing fleets to operate within 200 nautical miles of Morocco. Since that time the navy has been kept busy patrolling Moroccan waters, and there were numerous reports of Spanish, Portuguese, Soviet, and South Korean trawlers being detained and taken to Moroccan ports for having violated the country's restrictions on foreign fishing. The navy also has assisted in attempts to stem traffic in contraband and drugs that has moved through Moroccan ports.
On 3 January 1976, the Moroccan Navy stopped a Soviet cargo ship off the Spanish Sahara and found a cargo of arms. In response to the evidence of increased Soviet support for the Polisario rebels, U.S. Navy vessels made three port visits in Morocco during January 1976. The US Secretary of State, with the concurrence of the Department of Defense, decided that a well-publicized U.S. Naval visit to Agadir would be desirable to send a signal to the Soviets inresponse to the positioning of three Soviet Navy ships in the region. A three-day visit by CG-20 Turner early in February followed.
The fishing conflicts between Spain and Morocco in 1982 were tending toward a genuine "naval war." The machine-gunning of two Lanzarote fishing boats and the boarding of a third boat by agroup of supposed Moroccans led to talk of intervention of Mauritanian pirates, led by an ex-mercenary nicknamed "the German;" of the existence of "intimidating" actions by boats belonging to "mixed" enterprises in order to remove the independent fishermen and also the excess of zeal of the Moroccan navy patrol boats. It was known the Moroccan Royal Navy used "camouflaged" boats on special checking missions on the fishing bank. There were occasions on which these "camouflaged" crews practiced a lesser grade piracy on their own, especially when they were not collecting their salary on time. They had also reported the fact that the Spanish fishermen were carrying money ready to bribe the commanders of the "motor-boats" in case they were surprised in prohibited waters.
Interviews with some survivors appear to support recent reports that in the early morning hours of 28 April 2008, approximately 30 sub-Saharan migrants drowned while attempting to cross the Mediterranea and enter Spain. They accused the Moroccans of stabbing holes in their craft which, according to one, sank like a stone. The survivors said they were rescued by another Moroccan boat before being arrested and deported to the Algerian border. The Ministry of the Interior (MOI) circulated a press release saying that ten sub-Saharans were found dead off the coast of El Hoceima during a rescue operation by the Royal Navy In addition to the bodies, the MOI reported that the Royal Navy rescued 124 sub-Saharans and 24 Moroccans (this number waslater reported as 193 total) from three boats on the same day.
This tragic incident highlighted the tensions between Moroccan authorities and the increasing population of clandestine sub-Saharans in Morocco. Moroccan authoritie were stretched to the limit guarding against both illegal migration and terrorism. At the same time, sub-Saharan, as well as an increasing number of Asian, clandestine migrants still see Morocco as the highway to Europe's El Dorado and a better future.
In 2009 the Royal Moroccan Navy (RMN) requested the USG to pass "real world, real time" detection and monitoring (D and M) intelligence capability to assist the GOM with its efforts to combat narcotics and human trafficking as well as smuggling. The request came after the RMN's successful participation in Phoenix Express 2008 in April 2008. The maritime partnership between the USG and GOM has progressively improved over the years through cooperation, joint exercises and training.
The RMN requested U.S. assistance in monitoring and identifying "contacts of interest" (COIs) in Moroccan and international waters. According to the GOM, hundreds of small fishing and pleasure craft are involved in smuggling and trafficking. While the GOM possesses patrol boats capable of intercepting COIs, it lacks sensors and intelligence to conduct effective D and M operations against these small craft.
In one of the nation's largest anti-drug operations to date, on 13 January 2009 Government of Morocco (GOM) officials arrested 81 individuals, including officers from the Royal Navy, Gendarmerie, and Auxiliary Forces, allegedly involved in an international drug trafficking ring in the north coast city of Nador. This is the first time that GOM authorities have busted a drug ring including so many uniformed officers, especially from the Royal Navy. The drug trafficking network is accused of supplying several tons of hashish to Europe.
This was the largest drug bust in Morocco since 2006 when GOM authorities arrested Royal Palace Security Chief Abdelaziz Izzou and 12 other Moroccan officials for their participation in a drug trafficking scandal. Authorities seized more than 150 speed boats in 2006. During this recent raid, authorities confiscated 47 speed boats and one airplane used in drug trafficking.
Morocco’s role in intercontinental migration has grown, as it is increasingly viewed as a destination country, in addition to a transit nation. King Mohammed VI Morocco launched the National Policy on Immigration and Asylum in 2013. The number of undocumented migrants using sea routes from Morocco to Spain has more than tripled in the two years 2016-2018.
In July 2018 Morocco’s Royal Armed Forces (FAR) ordered a strategic redeployment of Moroccan warships in response to Algerian threats, bringing Morocco-Algeria hostilities to new heights and raising concerns of direct confrontation. Morocco’s move was a response to Algerian military maneuverings and a show of force on the Mediterranean in recent months. Morocco, which has acquired US-made state-of-the-art military equipment, has deployed frigates and a newly acquired warship off its northern coast to both respond to the alarming presence of Algerian ships and to thwart criminal activities at sea, according to Assabah.
IOM, the UN Migration Agency, reported that 55,001 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea through 25 July 2018. That total compares to 111,753 at this time in 2017, and over 250,000 at this time in 2016. Arrivals to Spain this month have overtaken those to Italy. To date just over 38 per cent of all Mediterranean irregular migrants have come via the Western Mediterranean route, whose irregular migration volume has more than tripled those registered at this time last year.
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