Amira Ghennai & Said Madani (LaboratoirePuvit, Setif 1 University, Algeria)
Despite its strategic importance as the second port of Algeria, the port of Skikda is still little known internationally. In this blog, we try to present the history of Skikda and its port, and to discuss its future in the light of post-oil issues. Skikda (also known as ancient Russicada) is a city located in northeastern Algeria, on the southern shore of the Mediterranean, which gives testimony to the long history of Mediterranean civilization. The city is characterized by a fascinating natural landscape, dating back to prehistoric times, which makes it a coastal town with significant tourist potential. It is also, however, dominated by the oil landscape. These contradictory elements forge the general landscape of Skikda.
Skikda was founded by the Phoenicians who built a small town on the banks of the Saf-Saf valley and gave it the name Tapsa. The great city of Thapsus, created in 47 B.C., was occupied by Massinissa after the fall of Carthage. The city kept its role as a natural market for the agricultural products of Numidia. The importance of Thapsus increased at the time when it was decided to open its kingdom to Greek and Sicilian merchants. After Caesar's victories in Africa, it took the name of Russicada in the year 186 and was erected as a Roman colony. Russicada was part of the confederation of the IV Colonies or Confederation Cirtenne.
When this confederation was dissolved at the end of the third century, Russicada found its autonomy. From then on, it was directed by an imperial civil servant called "curator" and began to lose its prestige and its importance to the profit of the neighboring port. Its decadence was confirmed by the invasion of the Vandals. The city was plundered by the Vandals but was not destroyed. It survived until the end of the 5th century when two bishops of Russicada were present: one Catholic and the other Donatist.
The ruin of Russicada began when Genseric, king of the Vandals, ordered his men to dismantle all the important cities. Russicada was not reborn from the ashes until fourteen centuries later. Rebuilt in the Middle Ages, it became again a prosperous and opulent city, thanks to its textile trade and especially its marble that was famous on the riverside markets.
Later, in 1838, Skikda fell to French colonization (Bertrand 1903), in which the city was referred to as Philippeville. In 1860 the French started to build a port between Stora and Wad Saf-saf. After the Algerian independence, this port is known today, as the ancient port or the mixed port of Skikda.
The mixed port came to know many operations of rehabilitation and extension, like the construction of a new pier at the West of the existing port in 1965 and later the construction of the three oil wharves at the old port. In the 1970s, after the installation of the petrochemical complex, Skikda needed a port with only a petroleum specialization. In 1972, Algeria built a new port named El Djadid, with Gas piers. The petroleum port of Skikda was directly connected with natural gas liquefaction complexes (LNG, liquid natural gas).
Since the 1970s, Skikda has become a gateway for oil export. The new port was completed in 1982, by starting the exploitation of hydrocarbon stations specializing in the traffic of crude oil and refined products. In 2003, the port developed its performance, adding a post for the reception of large tonnage ships (35,000 tons). In 2005, installation of off-shore buoys for loading 320,000 T super tankers, became a solution to optimize the technical problems of the port and to allow reception of large size tankers. It was necessary to keep up with the pressing development of maritime technology and naval architecture. In this context, the port authorities launched a set of operations in 2012, to rehabilitate and extend both the mixed port and the hydrocarbon port. The new project for the creation of a new jetty LNG, with important draft, started in 2019. This allows the LNG mega-train, located in Skikda, to bring its production to its nominal capacity and the berthing of large capacity ships, thus opening up additional market prospects for Algerian LNG (Skikda Port authorities, 2020). On the other hand, Algeria plans for a mega-project for sustainable energy, known as ‘Desert-tech’, in order to spread the national ambition of the energy transition by preparing for the post-oil phase.
The Algerian Energy sector proposes a strategic process of transition to renewable energies and energy efficiency, by the use of solar energy from the great Algerian desert. In terms of cooperation, the German group Dii Desert Energy launched this project in 2009. The idea concerns the implementation of solar and wind projects in the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East (MENA). As a result, Skikda port authorities think about the future of the national economy, by the ambition to attract international maritime business and developing the mixed port of Skikda in order to be able to receive large ships (Algerian Ministry of Energy, 2019). The role of the mixed port will focus on both the hydrocarbon export, and the maritime trade. However, the situation of Skikda as the gateway to Africa, allows it to play an important role in the international project of the Chinese Silk Road. This is why the port authorities of Skikda are looking for the development of the port infrastructure through operations of rehabilitation and extension with a large area for containerization, in order to absorb the maritime flow that traverses the Mediterranean. According to the logic and ambitions of port authorities, the logistics services of the mixed port will be the alternative to the retreat of the oil economy.
The future of the energy transition will impose the replacement of the port specialization in order to respond to the energy market. Even if the decline of oil will not occur in the short term, it is necessary to think about the future of the petroleum port, and the remains of oil areas that have characterized the built environment of Skikda during the last half century. In this context, Skikda should learn from researchers who think about the idea of the oil heritage as a ‘petroleum museum’ (Hein 2018; 2020). However, in long term-strategies, it is necessary to clean up the soil, the atmospheric pollution of refineries, and the maritime coast. This is necessary for the recovery of the brownfield site (Bahadori, 2014), even if these operations seems expensive and hard (Hein, 2018), because of the pollution of heavy and harmful environmental contamination (Bauddh, Singh & Korstad, 2017).
Skikda has a long history in relation to the sea. Over the last decades, the petroleum port, and the hydrocarbon refinery have industrialized this relation. The natural landscape is dominated by the petroleumscape and its polluting qualities. The image of the future port-city will be based on the Algerian desert capacity to produce renewable solar energy. In conclusion, urban planners need to rethink the transition strategies in Skikda, and the future reuse of a polluted area, which exceeds in its size the historical nucleus of the city and its suburbs.
Algeria Press Services: www.aps.dz, consulted the 17/09/2020
Bahadori, Alireza. 2014. Pollution Control in Oil, Gas and Chemical Plants. Basel: Springer Nature.
Bauddh, Kuldeep, Bhaskar Singh, John Korstad. 2017. Phytoremediation Potential of Bioenergy Plants. Singapore: Springer Nature.
Bertrand, Louis. 1903. Histoire de Philippeville (1838-1903), Skikda: Imprimerie administrative et commerciale moderne.
Hein, Carola. 2018. “Oil Spaces: The Global Petroleumscape in the Rotterdam/The Hague Area”. Journal of Urban History, 2018, Vol. 44 (5) 887–929. DOI: 10.1177/0096144217752460
Hein, Carola. 2020. Adaptive Strategies for Water Heritage: Past, Present and Future, Springer Open: https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007%2F978-3-030-00268-8.pdf
Vars, L. Rusicade et Stora. Philippeville dans l'antiquité. Constantine: Imprimerie à vapeur Émile Ivarle, p. 45.
Official website of Skikda port: https://www.skikda-port.com/, consulted on 18/09/2020.
The Official Site of the Algerian Ministry of Energy, 2019: https://www.energy.gov.dz/?article=lralgerie-interesse-par-la-cooperation-avec-dii-desert-energy-(desertec), consulted on 20/09/2020.
The Official Web Site of the Wilaya of Skikda: http://wilaya-skikda.dz/histoir_antique.php, consulted on 20/09/2020.
Front Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:P%C3%AAcheur_de_Skikda.jpg