A report from the Port Authority of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, dated March 3, 2020, already indicated that the Port of Los Cristianos is “insufficient” to respond to the demand for operations it supports, both in passenger and freight traffic, to and from the islands of La Gomera, La Palma and El Hierro. This document, signed by the president of the state entity, Carlos González, directly links the relief of the aronero pier with the development of the Fonsalía, in Guía de Isora. The usual image of vehicles that, after disembarking, collapse the exit, through the fragile urban fabric of the southern town, on the way to the TF-1 is only “the tip of the iceberg” of a much bigger problem. This, in addition, has grown exponentially in parallel with the increase in the number of vessels since 1996, the date to which the work dates back, to the present day. One piece of information is enough: it has gone from the 173,885 vehicles registered by the passage then to 442,923 on the date of the document, just before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The report is prepared at the request of Puertos del Estado, in relation to the possible alternative that the construction of a port in Fonsalía, in the municipality of Guía de Isora, for passenger and freight traffic on the islands of the western province. The text recalls the classification of Los Cristianos as a Port of General Interest and reflects that that of Guía de Isora received that condition and, later, it was withdrawn by law.
Los Cristianos constitutes, always as reflected in this document throughout its 15 pages, “a fundamental node of the inter-island transport network” and “one of the ports with the highest number of passengers in the national system.” A comparative data: in 1996, the total was 1,391,561 compared to the 1,970,455 recorded in 2019; that is, 578,894 more. Of these, more than 85% correspond to the traffic of the regular inter-island connection lines with the ports of Santa Cruz de La Palma, San Sebastián de La Gomera and La Estaca (El Hierro). The forecast is to reach the figure of more than 1.8 million passengers in 2023.
Regarding merchandise, the difference between the two dates is an increase of 353,837 tons (from 252,472, in 1996, to 606,309 in 2019). The data on the number of merchant ships that docked in the port is also eloquent. From 2,097 it has gone to 2,839 (739 more). With any type of navigation (cabotage or foreign), nationality (Spanish or foreign) or type of ship (ferries, general cargo, etc.).
Another aspect to highlight when assessing the importance of the port of Los Cristianos is the data that the Port Authorities evaluate from the merchant ships entering the ports and the GT of each ship. The GT is a measure of capacity that quantifies the volume of all interior spaces, including cabins, lodgings and more. It comes from the English Gross Tonnage, translatable by gross tonnage. Ten million GT more from one date to another.
Faced with demand, the report breaks down what the port offers. At the infrastructure level, it is formed by three main alignments, two continuous longitudinal ones in the shelter dam and a transverse. The longitudinal ones are used by the companies Fred Olsen (since 1973) and Naviera Armas (2000) dedicated to regular passenger traffic with the Green Islands, read La Gomera, La Palma and El Hierro.
Regarding the capacity of the esplanades for the docking and disembarking operations of the inter-island traffic companies, the port has about 2,320 linear meters of pre-shipment. It assumes a capacity for 464 vehicles or its equivalent in freight transport units. In addition, several facilities must be added such as the dock for small boats or traditional fishing, a space for aquaculture, the Old Pier where boats dedicated to maritime excursions are located or the Dry Marina with 105 berths. Finally, the Maritime Station, very close to the ferry berths, where offices and official or shipping companies are located.
“Strict”, in the sense of small or narrow, and “clearly insufficient”. This is how the report of the Port Authority evaluates the facilities of the Port of Los Cristianos. One conclusion: despite the significant increase over 24 years in all values and especially notable in terms of passenger vehicles, «all traffic continues to be managed in a port very similar in dimensions to those existing in 1996 or even in previous dates ».
The report also lists the number of ships engaged in inter-island traffic –four or five– their schedules –depending on the summer and winter seasons– or the social function of these routes. From the need to go to receive medical treatments at the reference hospitals to the transfer of troops to fight the fires.
The report also assesses that the limitations of the Port of Los Cristianos, “Already evident, they will undoubtedly increase in the short and medium term to condition the growth of maritime traffic and the provision of services to the regular routes of the Western Islands with criteria of efficiency, economy and quality.” There are basically four limitations: insufficient size and number of berths available; lack of land area for shipping operations; landing traffic and a Maritime Station “undersized for current needs.”
The lengths of several of the vessels are greater than the lengths of the docks where they operate in Los Cristianos. In the case of Fred Olsen, the Benchijigua Express, and in the case of Naviera Armas, the Volcán de Taburiente. These circumstances make it necessary to carry out maneuvers with extreme caution, especially in the case of two ships coinciding – more than two is impossible – a common circumstance given the high frequency of calls and when the weather conditions are unfavorable. The forecast is that the problem will increase due to the size of the new ships.
The lack of land area in the shipment is pure mathematics. If the port has 2,320 linear meters and the cargo capacity of the ships that provide services is 5,200, 3,000 would be missing.
Land access to and from the port of Los Cristianos is one of the keys to the debate these days. It is carried out through the tourist center road without the connection with the TF-1, the Autopista del Sur, having been adapted to the needs of port traffic
The limitation of the access capacity causes frequent operational breakdowns for both port users and neighbors. An example; the simultaneous disembarkation of two ships with high occupancy means injecting more than 500 vehicles into the traffic of the urban fabric or the equivalent part in transport units, in many cases large trucks or articulated as loaded platforms. Result: the high density of traffic in Los Cristianos, together with that of the Highway, creates a stopper for those who try to leave when the ferries arrive. This in turn delays the embarkation and departure of the ship.
Another example from the report. The 35-kilometer San Sebastián de La Gomera-Los Cristianos maritime route takes 35 minutes. By car, from the departure of the ferry to reaching the connection with the TF-1, three kilometers, it can sometimes take a little over an hour, doubling the navigation time.
Finally, the state of the Maritime Station “undersized for current needs.” Built in 1990, when the Los Cristianos port traffic was 470,000 passengers, it still maintains the original dimensions and configuration. Conclusion: “It does not allow adequate and quality service to the current volume of passengers, which is four times the initial quantity.”
The report summarizes the causes that hinder the development of the port of Los Cristianos “to adapt to the growing demand.” In the first place, “the location in the middle of a tourist center and important beaches”. On the other hand, the environmental conditions, since the waters of the Los Cristianos port “are within the Teno-Rasca Marine Strip Special Conservation Area and affected by conservation measures.” To this must be added the land access through the tourist center road with the saturation and collapses already mentioned. The report assesses “the solutions are complex because the connection is made through an urban network not designed in its day to accommodate the traffic currently generated by the port infrastructure.” It proposes a series of comprehensive actions “of high cost and great difficulty in carrying out”.
Fonsalía: a solution?
The report enters the coastal port of Guía de Isora with a phrase: “More than two decades ago the expansion of the Los Cristianos port was scrapped and the execution of the Fonsalía port was planned.” This was classified in the general interest of the State by Law 62/1997, of December 26. From there, the Port Authority began with studies to build a port that would allow the development of traffic with La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro, in addition to contemplating a sports dock with 619 berths. The project is drawn up and the processing even begins. However, it was declassified as infrastructure of general interest by Law 2/2004 of December 27, on general state budgets for the year 2005.
The document explains what the Tenerife Island Planning Plan (PIOT) says that “defines the future port of Fonsalía” and with respect to Los Cristianos ensures that “although the transfer to the future port of Fonsalía is planned, in the period of time in which it continues to provide inter-island maritime transport services is anyone’s guess. To this day the truth is that it still is.
The report is committed because “with the absorption by the port of Fonsalía of the inter-island commercial traffic of the western province, the port of Los Cristianos should be redefined and adapted to the remaining uses: fishing, sports and excursions.”
In any case, as a conclusion, the letter states: “It is evident that this Port Authority cannot decide or independently anticipate the future port of Los Cristianos-port of Fonsalía scenario.” But he concludes: “As long as Los Cristianos maintains its status as a port of general interest in the state, the Port Authority of S / C de Tenerife will continue to meet the demand for commercial traffic that said facility admits.”