The President of the Nigerian Chamber of Shipping (NCS), Mr Andy Isichei, has expressed worry about the weaknesses in the maritime security systems of countries within the West African sub-region.
He attributed the problem to lack of collaboration by way of information sharing among the countries, adding that: “Most countries are not talking to one another, thereby heightening activities of piracy and robbery within the coastal zones across the region.
Mr Isichei stressed that maritime security required a broader state-to-state collaboration and the only way port states could reduce the menace would be the creation of national platforms for the sharing of information.
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Operators within the coastal zones, he said, knew the flashpoints within the sector and could help the respective states to develop security blueprints that would make the West African waterways friendly.
“If your waterways are not friendly, foreign shipowners will be required to undergo higher insurance, which will increase cost of freight and further go to increase the cost of doing business within the sub-region,” Mr Isichei observed.
Speaking to the Graphic Business on the sidelines of the launch of the Ghana Chamber of Shipping (GCS) in Accra recently, Mr Isichei emphasised the need for the development of a joint strategy by various states within the sub-region to make the waterways safe as doing so would bring about ship call confidence in the respective port states.
The GCS is a maritime policy think tank aimed at providing technical support in the area of research and development, legal and labour issues and international trade, among others, to the government and relevant stakeholders.
The chamber, with membership from the maritime transport sector, is chaired by a former Director-General of the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA), Mr Owusu Mensah, while Dr Kofi Mbiah of Shipman Consult serves as the Chief Executive Officer.
Mr Isichei pointed out that Ghana could reap the economic benefits from its ship repair facility if the government could commit itself to providing solid infrastructure that the private sector could make use of for the development of the industry’s needs.
He indicated that the scope of economic activity within the ship repair sector could have far more reaching economic goals for Ghana if infrastructure were in place to aid routine maintenance and repairs, pre-fabrication of ship, barges and oil service logistics, among other activities.
“Dry-docking activities is a whole industrial sector capable of generating revenue and also providing hundreds of skilled jobs for young people,” Mr Isichei suggested.
“Your country is in the right direction with the introduction of new legislations to ensure local participation is key, but Ghana must be realistic in terms of capacity and infrastructure in the sector,” he stated.
Mr Isichei pointed out that whereas Ghana was on the right course with the introduction of a cabotage law which permits ships registered in other countries to engage in business in the country, the restriction clauses on vessels not built in Ghana could hurt business since Ghana presently was not engaged in vessel fabrication and production.
“You cannot be saying that vessels must be built in Ghana before they can enjoy maritime business when you don’t have the capacity to build ships,” he pointed out.
He was of the view that there should be a programme for which laws could be tailored to, rather than an omnibus approach which if not properly developed, could end up abrogating almost every contract in the sector.
“Introduction of relevant laws must ensure there is capacity building in terms of ship building, sea-time training for students and those already in the sector to ensure people are equipped with employable skills,” he counselled.
Mr Isichei further observed that whereas each country within the sub-region had its own peculiarities, countries ought to have laws that domesticated some shipping which could increase opportunity for dock and port workers and further make the economy active.
As such, collaboration in the area of business ownership is key if the sub-region is to reduce its business cost and enhance security and economic well-being.
“These days, road transport seems to be cheaper due to the unavailability of vessels within the sub-region’s coastlines, which has gone to affect cargo trade and value creation,” he lamented.
While commending Mr Owusu Mensah for bringing industry players together to form the chamber to help provide expertise and advocacy to help drive the government’s policy direction, Mr Isichei said Nigeria would be willing to partner Ghana to create a West African Chamber of Shipping that would advance the common interest of the region since it needed a uniform voice to make the region a respected bloc in the area of international trade.