Kofi Mbiah, a Ghanian who holds a Phd in Maritime Affairs, is the Chief Executive of the Ghana Chamber of Shipping. The former Chairman of the Legal Committee of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), and former CEO of Ghana Shippers Authority, spoke with Goodness Sunday in Lagos on industry issues
In what areas can Ghana and Nigeria collaborate in the maritime sector?
Thank you very much, there are many areas in which Nigeria and Ghana can collaborate, remember that Ghana and Nigeria share a lot in common in terms of our history and in terms of culture, even though sometimes there are variances in the culture, you realize that there are a lot of commonalities that can be enjoyed between the parties, and over the years attempts are being made at such collaborations. Within the maritime sector, we can look at a few areas where we can improve upon the level of collaboration, we can look at the area of maritime security, you would realize that in recent times piracy and armed robbery of the gulf of guinea have become a matter of grave concern, and this is an area in which Ghana and Nigeria can collaborate, we can collaborate through intelligence gathering, through the sharing of information so that once that information is gathered by Nigeria, it could be passed on to Ghana, Ghana can pass information on to Nigeria. Sometimes the perpetrators of this crime are the same people, so if we get information on them they could be apprehended, we could also have common judicial agreement so that Nigerians who are apprehended in Ghana waters could be tried in Nigeria and Ghanaians who are apprehended in Nigeria waters could be tried in Ghana because remember this a vast expanse of water, it covers a large area and we don’t have all the equipment or machinery, resources to be able to monitor or exercise surveillance over this wide area and that’s why is important for there to be collaboration, exchange of information, resources etc. and then we can apprehend some of this culprits and bring them to book and if not eliminate at least reduce the spate of maritime crime on the Gulf of Guinea.
You could also look at the area of the ports and realize that each of the ports can develop a niche for an area so that while we deal in all aspects of goods that are coming into the ports from containers, dry bulk, liquid bulk etc. we could form niches so that when it comes to issue of dry bulk, you know that yes, this one has an advantage in dry bulk and therefore the majority of goods would be handled by facilities which they have put in place, other than that, you come to realize that the resources that we put in place are not commiserate with the demands for those facilities and that is very important. Although everybody wants to turn its port into a hub, they cannot do that. Apart from the area of the port where we can collaborate, we can also collaborate in the area of training, Nigeria has experience in a number of areas especially when it comes to oil and gas, there could be judges coming from Ghana and collaborating with their colleagues here in Nigeria and vice versa and the exchange of views and information could enrich the jurisprudence of these two countries.
We could also look at the Ghana chamber of shipping and the Nigeria chamber of shipping and especially what they have started to form the nucleus of the West African chamber of shipping and I think we can strengthen this collaboration such that they will be a strong force that can represent itself at international fora, discuss issues that are confronting the sub region and try as much as possible to get solution to this case. So these are areas which I believe Ghana and Nigeria can collaborate in the Maritime sector for the future.
In what areas are Ghana and the rest of Africa having challenges?
Yes, we are having challenges in a number of areas, one of which I have just alluded to, which has to do with maritime security of the Gulf of Guinea, piracy and armed robberies are areas which we have challenges. One of the other areas which have challenges is basically what we refer to as capacity, when it comes to issue of arbitration which is to be a centrefold for maritime activity. You want a situation in which we could have the seat of arbitration in Africa in arbitrating matters that are important to our economy. This is one area where Africa faces challenges because we have a lot of dispute international in character which are being addressed outside of our country, taking resources outside our country. Another challenge facing Africa is the issue of financing, if you take the area of ship holding for example, you realize that almost all the vessels that are in our ports are foreign vessels and to what extent can we participate in the trade, I know Nigeria for example has cabotage and for some time they have been practicing their own from cabotage but Ghana is yet to develop its cabotage laws and then there could be collaboration in the areas where one country have a deficiency, the other one can help. Once again, we are not taking hold of our economy because we lack the resources and the capital and I’m sure that some collaboration in this aspect will be helpful.
And how strong is the participation of African countries in international maritime organization?
I will say that over the last couple of years, maybe over the last couple of decade it has improved. We can see some improvement to the level of representation of African countries hitherto the level of participation could be described as abysmal. A lot more could be done, the regularities of African countries at the international maritime organization, their preparation before meetings, their contribution to the meetings. These are important because it requires that you should do research, you should build capacity over a period, get your knowledge and facts and then come and make a contribution on the floor of the international maritime organization. Where some progress has been made, I still think that there is a lot to be done in terms of African participation in the International Maritime Organization so that there can influence the international rules that come out of the IMO. There are things that are developing countries centred, small island state centred, geographical disadvantaged state centred and a lot of these are in Africa. So we need to work towards addressing particular issues that face these countries and the only way we can do that is for us to get involved in the development of legislation that affects these countries.
So in your view how can the problem of Sea pirates be tackled?
Piracy is a very difficult problem to tackle but does not mean that it’s impossible, we saw what happen in Somalia.
Now the gulf of guinea is noted for being notorious of piracy, remember that even though piracy is committed at sea, sometimes we talk about piracy but what we mean is piracy, armed robbing, kidnapping, and all forms of maritime violence. The way to curb them is that all these emanates from Land, before people come to sea to do these things, there are land based, so there is the need to have strong intelligence first on land, there is a need to look at which organized groups and things are involved in this and also address the land based issues of good governance to deal with these things, then put in place surveillance network so there can be exchange of information in these areas, you have to put in place a strong legal framework to bring the culprits to book therefore acting as a deterrent to others who want to commit such crimes, some actions needed to be taken in that regard and the solutions are resource based, information sharing, intelligence gathering, good governance and laws. These are important things to put in place.
Finally illegal migration of Africans through the Mediterranean has become a huge problem, how long will it continue and how do you think it can be handled?
The illegal migration at sea is indeed a challenging problem, the issue has come up at the international maritime organization and I’m aware that countries such as Italy, Malta and Spain are working together to see what could be put in place, and remember that there are various facets to this, some of this things are based on organized crime and situations back home in many of these places are such that people are desperate they do not mind therefore mind or care if they will go on land or through the Mediterranean and some of them will die at sea, to rectify these it will require good governance in all places, the level of corruption in our countries is so high there are no opportunities for the youth and if we can build strong economies that provide opportunities.