“The city of Ceuta is located at the end of the Roman Sea, that is, in the Bahr-al-Zocat, where it communicates with the surrounding Ocean. It is built on a very narrow peninsula that advances over the sea. Its eastern, northern and southern boundaries are bathed in waves. It will be possible for its inhabitants to communicate the South Bay with the North and turn its peninsula into an island separated from the Continent. In the past, a channel was drawn along the narrow part that had an approximate width of two arrow shots!”.
The strategic situation of the city has made it and its Port key elements in the development of the History of Spain, North Africa, the Mediterranean Sea and its surroundings.
Ancient towns dedicated to commerce, such as Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians, used the port as a base and called in their trade routes as a place from which discover new territories to establish relationships of this type. The seven hills that saw the boats of these villages from the horizon represented the mark of the “end of the Mediterranean”, with the Greeks who would name this passage of the Angostura de Azocaque * or Strait of Gibraltar, as we know it today. Eptadelfos, – seven mountains – was the denomination that the helenos chose in memory of the hills visible from the sea. The mythological tradition places the columns of Hercules on both sides of the Strait, of the Fretrum Herculeum *; a “Calpe”, mount and square of Gibraltar, and another “Abyla” or Avila, whose pinnacle would be located in the current Monte Hacho.
The Romans went on to call it «Septem Frates» according to the peculiarity of the seven hills and which would later derive giving rise to the name of Septa or Ceuta, capital of the Tingitana Mauritania at the time of the Empire.
Byzantines, Visigoths and Arabs became owners of such a strategic place, endowing it with increasing commercial and cultural significance, and turning it at the beginning of the second millennium into the focus of knowing that it illuminated the entire Maghreb *, because if Ceuta was eminently commercial by its port natural and situation, it is known that universities generally looked for commercial points and places of crossings of itineraries and influx of people to favour the knowledge. «Knowledge begins in the market places.»
From this geographical point, products such as gold, ivory and African slaves are exported, and other almost unknown manufactures in Europe such as rag paper, a fundamental writing support for the imminent appearance of the printing press.
During the three following centuries the commercial changes in the routes and the ports of destination were numerous and of great importance, establishing three great routes of commercial navigation in the thirteenth century; that of the West, that of Poniente and that of Levante. The western Mediterranean route was the oldest. From Barcelona the most important ports of call and destination were Sant Feliu de Guixols, Cotlliure, Montpellier, Narbonne, Aigües, Mortes, Marseille, Nice and Genoa to the North, and Mallorca, Valencia, Seville, Ceuta, Tunisia, Bujía and those of the Sultanate from Tremecén to the South. Ceuta would soon become its location, in one of the areas most coveted by Genoese, Portuguese, Castilian and Aragonese.
In 1415, Juan I of Portugal incorporated the disputed territory into his kingdom and the Christian world, becoming an important naval base for countless Portuguese expeditions in search of the eastern route to the Indies.
But if we return once more to the city and its port as strategic enclaves, we cannot forget that this condition would turn them into a place of great military relief, being a reference place in the partition the Treaty of Tordesillas of 1494 made of the territories of the Maghreb, assigning the kingdom of Fez – from Ceuta to the West – to Portugal, and the kingdom of Tremecén under the Spanish control.
In the time of Felipe II, sovereign of Portugal in 1580, Ceuta passed into Spanish rule, remaining faithful to the crown of the Austrias after the segregation of the Kingdom of Portugal years later. Defensive fortifications would become dominant in terms of development works, overlapping the ports themselves. In the XVII, the latter are referred to as spaces where maritime activity takes place, the former natural shelters of Sarchal, Ribera Sur and Cisternas, leaving the maritime moat or Albacar as the only artificial port until 1670. From this time, the construction of the first shipyards of Ceuta (atarazanas) took place, located in San Amaro and a dock in the Almina pit that will end the abandonment of Albacar due to the constant litigation with Morocco that will cause the evolution of the maritime facilities and port sheltered by the Moroccan army artillery in the Levante area. The Almina moat will be destined to be the main and only artificial port of Ceuta, the only point of union with the peninsula until the 20th century.
In these times, the commerce of this area would be marked by some specific activities; the development of an important salting industry with strong demand in Valencia and Catalonia, among them.
Already in the 19th the port facilities of the moat, aided by the small inlets and docks of San Amaro and Cisternas in the north, and Sarchal, Sardina and Ribera in the south passed to military administration, until in 1860, with the war of Africa , the territory acquires a prominence and importance such that the need to build a port that gave shelter to the warriors and ships that arrived there and facilitate the landing of troops was created in the conscience of both military and civil authorities, food, ammunition and material. Thus the R. O. of November 23, 1860 would arrange for the lieutenant colonel of engineers of the territory to write a “project of the works necessary for the improvement and shelter of the port of Ceuta”. The military interest was paramount although it was collected that “it could serve as a refuge for the transit trade that would reach importance if the Suez Canal was opened”, under construction, and that it would be navigable from November 17, 1869. Mr. Angel Romero Walls, Lieutenant Colonel of Engineers, would begin the commission with the drafting of a “project of the necessary works for the improvement and shelter of the port of Ceuta”, which until then had no more maritime work than the small breakwaters of Africa- dock of Commerce – and from the south mouth of the Moat of the Royal Wall. The work would continue for years, being approved in a RO of February 3, 1864. In this study, a port area of 44 hectares was assigned, with a draft of 5 to 9 meters, of which only 22 were accessible to large ships. The width of the mouth, 25 meters and the budget 36,900,000 reals of Vellón.
The works were developed very slowly from 1884 to 1897, in which the War Advisory Board, seeing the inadequacy of the project, appointed a commission to adapt it to a «broader conception».
The paths are totally different. While in the sixties it was limited to a dike, North Dike, later the base of the Alfau Pier, the new layout of the end of the century required a minimum sheltered area of 100 hectares and a maximum draft in locations of piers and docks 20 meters. The North Dike would have two arms, one of them would be that of Poniente, thus increasing the sheltered space or anchorage and arranging the works in such a way that they could be expanded in the future with the lowest possible cost. It would be emphasized that no dangerous pitfalls for boats were left inside the port and that the pier starts were, if possible, protected by a point where the waves broke.
The early twentieth century was the most favorable for the improvements of the port. In 1901 a Commission of Military and Road Engineers was appointed that would begin to estimate costs of the necessary works in 1902. But it will be the visit of Alfonso XIII that will determine the immediate future of the port, by delivering a manuscript to his majesty in the one that requested the immediate construction of the port and the cost of the expenses on the part of the state and the city council. In the same way, it was requested that the taxes to be charged for port services should be studied, so that they would be modest and make the port a competitive enclosure for which the Port Works Board should be constituted, whose general regulation was July 17, 1903 Months earlier, in February of that year, the chief engineer of Public Works of the province of Cádiz, Mr. Enrique Martínez and Ruiz de Arzúa, drafted the draft of the agreed works as well as the advance of the budget, 20 million pesetas. By Royal Order of February 14, 1904, issued with the Council of Ministers, the export of merchandise through the port of Ceuta was authorized in principle, as well as the imposition of arbitration when the corresponding Works Board was constituted. September 20, 1904 created the mentioned Board of Works of the Port, being the first director Mr. José E. Rosende Martínez. Once the Board was constituted on October 20 of the same year, it was in charge of the works and of all the material affected to them on December 3, the delivery being made by the Public Works Headquarters of the province of Cádiz. On the same date, the delivery was made by the City Council of Ceuta of the Commerce and Fishermen’s wharf. José Rosende wrote a new project in 1906, «Project of indispensable works to ensure the anchorage of the roadstead», giving the importance due to the clearly foreseeable commercial traffic, contemplating the docks: North dock – after that called Reina Victoria and Puntilla today ; North Dock, Alfau; and Muelle Sur, Alfonso XIII. The project was approved on August 7, 1907, with a high budget for the period, 17,838,817 pesetas, starting the works in January 1909.
The auction of the works and their specifications are approved by R. O of March 14, 1908, and they are awarded to Mr. Dámaso R. Arango on behalf and representation of the Arango and García Company, of Zaragoza, as best bidder. The order of execution dates from December 1, 1908, considering what was stated by the Ministry of War regarding the construction of the North dike, so that it was built in the first place. Similarly, the study of a provisional railway for the transport of the breakwater from the Benzú quarry was authorized by the Ministry of War. In 1910, the engineer Mr. Rafael Vegazo draws up a “Reformed project to secure the anchorage” approved in 1912 and which supposes a new budget of greater economic endowment. This same engineer writes a new “Reformed Project of the Port of Ceuta” in 1923, where the useful width of the Poniente dam – before the north dock – and the Levante dike – before the north dock is increased.
The gradual development of awareness of the need for a port, from 1860, drives the idea of its construction to deal with coastal traffic of special interest with the Peninsula, hence after the constitution of the Board and the First projects will produce substantial variations to meet the increasingly necessary reforms. In this way, the project of Alonso Bielza, and the Rosende project of 1928 come to light in 1924. In these years, docks, warehouses and services are built, which leads to an increase in freight traffic, especially in the provisioning of ships, due to the installation of fuel stores such as the concession for installation and operation to Mr. Enrique Ibarrola y Abaña, which dates back to 1920 and involves the passage of fuel oil pipes for loading, unloading and supplying ships, gas- oil and fuel oil, based on using the Poniente dike gallery.
If in 1880 by a law the Port of Ceuta is declared a port of general interest, by Royal Decree this classification is ratified with the date of the law of February 24, 1928.
Likewise, it becomes classified as a free port by Royal decree-law of June 11, 1929 and fishing port by Ministerial Order dated February 16, 1935.
The 30s would be marked by the difficult political situation, with delays in the works and the depletion of the budget, approved in 1932 for an amount exceeding 52 million pesetas, to which another 5 million would be added in 1938. The unique reception and definitive of these works took place on February 17, 1942.
In spite of everything and after the analysis of the statistical data obtained related to 1935, we can verify how the Port of Ceuta was at the head of the Spanish ports in terms of the number of ships that frequented it and their tonnage, and the scope of importance of the volume of supply to these ships, indicating this activity as specific to the Port of Ceuta. In 1936, in view of the intense movement registered, the engineer Martínez Catena proposes a preliminary project that basically involves the extension of the Poniente pier from Punta Bermeja.
With the end of the War in Europe and the growth of the Moroccan economy, the economy of the city and therefore the activity of its port would mark high profit levels, taking place in the 40s and 50s the massive entry of goods destined to the French and Spanish Protectorate area. Undoubtedly, it will be the reinforcement of the service area and the concessions granted for fuel traffic (Ibarrola SA, General Carbon Company, CEPSA …) and that of the WEIL Y Cia ice factory. The Strait of Gibraltar becomes the busiest sea route in the world and the number of ships that use it grows year by year without being subject to a certain rate, far exceeding the traffic of Suez and Panama channels. Given this panorama, the many possibilities of the Port of Ceuta are revealed, but at the same time, first-order needs, such as extending the length of berthing lines and docks at the docks, establishing land communication routes, providing the infrastructure port for loading-unloading operations, repairs, supplies…
This increase in commercial traffic is defined as “it is expected that in subsequent years the activities of the port will continue to rise, trusting that it will contribute very much to the arrival of vessels at the port is greater from year to year, which can be supplied water without limitations to the boats that request it, once the service is inaugurated; that of Ceuta will be, already in the next year, of the few ports that can supply at the same time gas-oil, diesel, gasoline, coal, ice and water ”.
The sixties marked a period of crisis with a decrease in port traffic, due to numerous factors and circumstances among which we can mention the closure of the Suez Canal during 1967, political and social disturbances in the Arab countries and especially the insecurity of water supplies during the summer months.
The 70s marked a turning point with an obvious exit from the crisis of the previous decade but subject to ups and downs due to the oscillations that occur in the entry of ships, related to supplies and with the low importance of merchandise traffic. The greater autonomy of ships means the absence of refueling over short distances.
Prior to the entry of Spain into the European Economic Community, Ceuta was outside the scope of the CAMPSA monopoly, so that the supply of oil companies located in the city could offer fuel oil and gas-oil under very competitive conditions in price. Ceuta’s competition at the national level was with the Canary Islands, and in the Mediterranean with Augusta, Malta and Piraeus.
The entry of Spain into the Community meant the liberalization of the fuel market in Spain, entering the international competition of traffic supply in the Strait of Gibraltar and the Spanish ports of the western Mediterranean.
After a continuous decline, without any action to improve its infrastructure, the port faced very unfavorable conditions under a framework of greater competition such as the one established by the Ports Act of 1992. The limitation of its hinterland, the loss of traditional traffic and the legal imposition of a reduced rates due to the almost insular nature of its territory, made it impossible for it to face, without any help, the strong competition in the area. Both the development of the port of Algeciras, thanks to the large investments in infrastructure and facilities, as well as the competition of Gibraltar, were determinants of this process.
It is in 1996 when a new management of the port begins that arrives until our days, as a result of it, it is possible to improve the facilities in which the traditional traffic of the strait operates, to open new commercial possibilities, with traffic such as bunkering, and designing a new infrastructure whose viability was inevitably conditioned on the allocation of European funds.
This new policy shows when checking today the important advance that the port facilities have undergone, the improvements of the existing terminals and facilities for passengers, vehicles, cruise ships and even the execution of the works of the first phase of the port expansion from Ceuta.
At the beginning of 2004, the new Law of economic regime and provision of services of ports of general interest, incorporated the structural reforms necessary to improve the competitiveness of the sector and promoting its growth for the coming years, having already undertaken a new stage of modernization whose main challenge is to finish building the extension to gain surface and accommodate a logistics terminal that solves supply problems, introduces competition, and allows us to develop the potential of our port.
With the entry into force of the new Law of Ports (Law 33/2010) that modifies the previous 48/2003 of Economic Regime and Provision of Services in the Ports of General Interest that completed the regulatory development in this field initiated with the Law 27/92 and then continued by Law 62/97. A new regulation is born with a broad parliamentary consensus, which has made the Law of Ports more supported by democracy.
The new Law aims to provide more efficient ports to be increasingly competitive in a global market of increasing demand, setting new operating rules for the port system of general interest, where the Port of Ceuta is framed, highlighting the flexibility of the tariff model and the reinforcement in the liberalization of port services. The new model ensures the principle of financial self-sufficiency and reinforces the autonomy of management of Port Authorities such as Ceuta.