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African Renaissance Conference 2017

                                                  

     

    PAN-AFRICAN MARITIME CO-OPERATION:
    A PIPE-DREAM OR A REALITY?
     

    In 2012 the revised African Maritime Transport Charter was published. The Charter has
    as an overriding purpose which is the development of African fleets and African transport
    generally.

     

    The stated objectives in the Charter are as follows:

    • Declare, articulate and implement harmonized maritime transport policies capable of promoting sustained growth and development of African merchant fleets and to foster closer cooperation among the States Parties of the same region and between the regions. 
    • Facilitate and encourage regular consultations for determining African common positions on issues of international maritime policy and to define, for each given problem, concerted solutions.
    • Promote effective implementation of international maritime instruments to which Member States are parties.
    • Promote bilateral and multilateral cooperation among the maritime administrations of States Parties, and their respective operational organizations in the field of maritime and inland waterways transport and port activities.
    • Promote the funding, undertaking of research studies by national institutions that encourage the promotion and development of cooperation in maritime and inland waterways transport and port operations among States Parties and regions.
    • Encourage the establishment and support of maritime and ports administrations. ӹӹ Encourage the establishment of shippers’ councils and support them in the performance of their functions.
    • Promote the establishment of national and regional shipping lines and provide them the assistance necessary for their success. 
    • Develop and promote mutual assistance and cooperation between States Parties in the area of maritime safety, security and protection of the marine environment. ӹӹ Promote the sharing of best practices among States parties in the overall management and operation of Maritime Administrations and other maritime entities established in terms of this Charter.
    • Promote the provision of maritime education and training at all levels including secondary schools.
    • Promote the employment of seafarers, decent working conditions and training of seafarers.
    • Promote development of multimodal transport and integration of all modes of transport.

    The question is whether any or all of these objectives are realistic and what it will take in order to achieve them. Africa is something of a “forgotten Continent” in the context of international maritime transport. South Africa, as one of the primary economic drivers of the Continent, does not have a single commercial

    ship on its Ships Register. Foreign shipping lines carry 100% of all commodities and cargoes exported from South Africa, meaning a massive loss in freight income for the country, a huge outpouring of foreign

    currency and little in the way of job creation by shipowners.

    In 2003 Nigeria took steps to rectify a similar problem in that country by introducing cabotage laws which reserve the commercial transportation of goods and services within Nigerian coastal and inland waters to vessels flying the Nigerian flag and owned by Nigerian citizens. The success of the Nigerian cabotage regime is open to some debate and has at some level been criticised as being detrimental to the Nigerian economy. The remaining African countries do not have significant merchant fleets and hence most Continental outward- and inward bound cargoes are carried by foreign ships with the consequent loss of freight income and outflows of foreign currency.

    It seems extraordinary that the maritime nations of Europe, India, China and so on have been able to make their fleets succeed whereas individual African countries have apparently failed. America, through its Jones Act, has reasonably successfully managed to retain its cabotage trade and restricted this to

    American carriers. Australia has a cabotage Act which has apparently been detrimental to the Australian economy. What is the primary difference between those nations who have failed and those who have succeeded?

    It appears that the significant difference lies in economies of scale. Despite the massive potential for growth in Africa and extraordinary natural resources, no single country has been able to generate either

    the resources or the port export/import infrastructure capacity to justify exclusivity to ships trading and registered in that country. Accordingly, the cost of operating ships registered in those countries has simply been too high, thus leaving the door open to competing countries with lower shipping costs to ensure that African shipping fleets cannot succeed.

    In view of the fact that the Charter envisages cooperation across Africa in a number of different spheres, including a Pan-African cabotage regime, it may be that the economies of scale of all of Africa will make the merchant fleets of the individual countries constituting the African Continent viable. This is what

    makes the ideals of the Charter exciting and potentially offer lifelines to any African shipping dreams.

    If that happens, some if not all of the other objectives contained in the Charter should follow. Nonetheless, however sound the ideals and thinking are behind the Charter, nothing can happen without concerted cooperation amongst State parties, total commitment from the individual countries

    to the stated objectives and political will across the Continent.

    Without the above factors, no amount of discussions, conferences, charters or other strategy documents will bring about any significant change in the status quo. Accordingly, whilst the objectives of the Charter are both admirable and achievable, they will remain a pipe-dream unless all of the administrators and players in the industry sector are willing to roll up their sleeves, put politicsaside and get on with

    the job.
    Andrew Pike is a director of the South African maritime and logistics law firm Velden Pike Nichols
    Inc. (www.vpnlaw.com), past-President of the Maritime Law Association of South Africa and a past
    board member of the Ports Regulator of South Africa.