Dr. Kofi Mbiah is a former Chairman, Legal Committee of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). He is also a former Chief Executive of Ghana Shippers Authority. In this exclusive chat with The News Diet, he speaks on several pertinent maritime sector issues and proffers solutions to ship finance, multiplicity of deep seaports, piracy, Extra War Risk Insurance, among others.
Few weeks ago, the Day of African Seas and Oceans passed without much activities. How would to our rate the development of maritime in Africa and what are the biggest challenges?
In most African countries, we still don’t have a clear national maritime policy which outlines what we intend to achieve in the sector and gives focus to the industry. It is very important that we have policies that will show where our comparative advantage lies so that there can be specialization.
Almost every country in West Africa is building deep seaports with the hope of becoming the hub in maritime and ports operations. These are very huge investments but with policies we can look at specializations so that countries can be dependent on one another for certain services while they specialize in other areas.
For instance a small country like Togo could specialize in one aspect of maritime instead of investing massively in deep seaports when Nigeria, Ghana and others are doing the same thing. A lot of cargoes of certain types, maybe containerized ones, could be shipped to Togo and moved to other nations within the region while other types of cargoes move to other ports for onward distribution in the West Coast.
It is also because we don’t have maritime policies that issues regarding exploitation of the resources of the sea and the conservation of these resources for sustainability haven’t been achieved by West African nations. It’s important that we all highlight the importance of the blue economy and make it a focal point for our development.
As African nations plan their national development strategies, they should look at the blue economy and specific areas where they have comparative advantage to focus on those areas while there is more harmonization and collaboration among member states in the region for growth in the sector.
With respect to security, there is a lot of collaboration going on. There is no doubt that the state of piracy has gone down and this is also attributable to the high degree of sharing information, intelligence and collaboration among member states. The same approach should be utilized in the conservation of ocean resources, protection and preservation of the marine environment. African nations should be looking at how to complement one another.
If you check all our ports in the region, you would observe that despite the massive advantages of tourism, we don’t have such ports in the region. It’s not yet registered as a common phenomenal but we should have such kinds of maritime assets in the region. While this will attract investors, people should also be able to enjoy some aspects of tourism when they visit Apapa port or Benin, Togo or Ghana.
Ship acquisition remains a huge challenge across the continent with the absence of single digits interest loans. How could this be addressed to enable African vessels take ownership of the region’s trade?
The absence of African shipping lines is truly another major challenge to shipping in the continent with regards to shipping lines and vessel ownership. We don’t have our shipping lines but it is important that we build capacity to have vessels. Sometime ago, nations like Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Cote D’Ivoire and others were championing a cause to own vessels that would serve the West African coast.
We are also talking about African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which is the latest development to promote intra-African trade. AfCFTA can be very useful because trade is still at about 9 percent within West and Central Africa. There are several issues limiting intra-African trade which hinges on policies as well as appropriate infrastructure. All of these isues can be addressed with the provision of maritime policies that outline where the nation’s priorities are. It is only when such policies are developed that we can begin to critically look at maritime infrastructure and others like; roads, rail, pipelines and aviation to drive the national policies.
Let’s look at air carriage, to what extent have African nations been able to perfect air carriage among ourselves? When there is an urgent need for certain cargoes in West and Central Africa, sometimes it would have to go to Europe before it is conveyed back to the other African nation. This doesn’t augur well for the continent.
So, if African nations will fully exploit the resources of the oceans, it will be important to prioritize what we consider the most important aspects, have a comprehensive policy and provide infrastructure to drive the policies. This will lead to proper development of the blue economy for the respective nations, the sub-region and Africa at large.
Cargoes and vessels coming to Africa pay War Risk premiums. What’s the situation in Ghana and shouldn’t the recent peace on the Gulf of Guinea lead to a reversal of that arrangement?
It’s the same Gulf of Guinea (GoG) so Ghanaian cargoes and ships suffer the same insurance costs, but the change will not happen overnight. The international community, especially the insurance companies have this believe that the peace in the GoG may just be a facade. However, if we can sustain this peace in the region for a period one year or 18 months, it will be proof that there has indeed been a change in terms of piracy and security in the region. It’s only been some months without any piracy reports.
How would AfCFTA work in shipping when most nation’s Cabotage regime falters due to paucity of funds to acquire ships?
Indigenous players don’t have the funds to purchase modern ships and this problem is common among African nations. The business of ship acquisition is a very capital-intensive one. I’m delighted that you mentioned African banks; like Afreximbank and African Development Bank (AfDB) because they can play crucial roles.
With rapid advancement in technology and changes in ecology, Africa shouldn’t continue going for old ships being phased out in other parts of the world. It is important for us to begin to look at Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) for ship acquisition. However, I still subscribe to the school of thought that nations should have wholly owned shipping fleets like the Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL) in the past.
As we explore ship acquisition, African nations should also prioritize building the requisite human capacity that will efficiently manage these vessels. If we don’t operate the ships efficiently, we would come back to square one.
In Nigeria, there is the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences (SPOMO) Act and this has been lauded for contributing massively to swift prosecution of pirates. What’s the legal framework in Ghana and should SPOMO Act be a model for African nations?
Ghana has developed a similar legislation which is at the draft stage and we have done some work on it. I’m sure that they have taken a cue from Nigeria, but this doesn’t only have to be a development in Nigeria and Ghana because we are talking about an issue in the entire GoG. Other nations should have similar legislations so that wherever these criminals are found they can be brought to book.
Industrial fishing in most African nations suffers poaching and Illegal Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) by foreigners. How could this be resolved?
It comes back to what we said about policies at various nations and perhaps a sub-regional or continental policy. With such policy we can better regulate the maritime domain and have in place mechanisms to checkmate IUU fishing. A lot of foreign poachers utilizing massive ships have been invited to our waters by Africans.
Meanwhile, indigenous companies are unable to acquire massive fishing trawlers that can compete and sail to certain aspects of the oceans. The best approaches to addressing this will be explored in policy development. Nevertheless, Africa should be concerned about this challenge because fishing could provide massive employment opportunities and minimize the need for importing seafood.