Ghana’s aim of becoming the hub of maritime business in the sub-region has received a major boost, following the successful completion of a US$35 million maritime safety and security project that will ensure a 24/7 surveillance of the country’s territorial waters.
The investment went into the implementation of a vessel traffic monitoring and information management systems (VTMIS), which spans from Keta in the Volta Region to Half Assini in the Central Region.
This makes Ghana one of the few countries in the sub-region and the continent at large to have successfully implemented a surveillance system that ensures minute by minute monitoring of vessels moving in and out of its maritime domain.
The Director-General of the Ghana Maritime Authority (GMA), Mr Peter Issaka Azumah, said in an interview that the completion of the VTMIS project and its planned commissioning next month would boost the country’s vision of becoming the central point in West Africa where majority of maritime businesses are transacted.
“Because the system is able to track a vessel 1,000 nautical miles away, it boosts the confidence levels of not only the ship owners but also the ship operators and those who provide insurance for the vessels; they will now realise that the risk level of our shipping corridor is reduced because we are able to provide them reports from the 24/7 surveillance that we do. This will make more vessels to begin to call at our ports and the traffic levels will also begin to increase,” he told the GRAPHIC BUSINESS on March 19.
Mr Azumah spoke to the GRAPHIC BUSINESS moments after addressing the maiden conference on Coastal and Maritime Surveillance in Africa (CMSA). The conference, which was on the theme: ‘Delivering Total Surveillance of African Maritime Domain,’ brought together officials of the navy of the various countries on the continent.
It ran from March 17-20 within which the various dimensions in maritime security and safety was at the heart of the discussion. The Ghana Navy, one of the three arms of the Ghana Armed Forces (GAF), hosted the conference, which attracted hundreds of navy officers and maritime experts from around the continent and the world at large.
The GMA, which monitors, regulates and coordinates activities within the country’s maritime industry, is currently aiming at making Ghana the preferred destination where businesses in the maritime industry would converge to operate.
That initiative includes liaising with the Ministry of Transport, its mother ministry, and other agencies such as the Ghana Ports and Habours Authority (GPHA) and the Ghana Shippers’ Authority (GSA) to implement initiatives and programmes that would, among other things, make the country’s territorial waters friendly to vessels moving in and out of its domain, reduce congestion and cost of operations at the nation’s twin-sea ports and ensure that the security and safety of people and cargo moving in and out of Ghana’s maritime territory is guaranteed.
The security of people and vessels is particularly important due to the rising incidence of terrorist acts and insecurity in general on the Gulf of Guinea. The gulf stretches from Ghana’s west coast in the Western Region to Gabon.
As of 2012, data from the GMU showed that over 74 cases of such acts, comprising ship hijacking, maritime terrorism and piracy, were recorded and 54 were within the maritime domain of neighbouring Nigeria. The United Nations (UN) recently bemoaned the insecurity situation in the region, saying that it posed a security threat to international peace.
That, therefore, calls for tighter security measures by countries wishing to attract maritime businesses such as increasing the number of vessels that call at its ports and serving as a destination for the servicing and repairs of ships in their domains to at least guarantee the safety and security of the people and cargoes concerned.
The DG of the GMA explained that security was at the core of the country’s maritime policies, given that it was in line with the aim of making the country a preferred destination for maritime business within the sub-region. Although efforts at achieving such an aim have been ongoing, Mr Azumah admitted it was rather on the quiet and gradually.
“The whole objective from our side is to ensure that vessels will prefer to call here rather than in other country and for that to happen, we need to have the systems and programmes in place. That is what we are doing and that is what made us to go for this technology,” Mr Azumah said, pointing to the VTMIS project, which is due to be commissioned in mid-April.
The project started in late 2012 with some assorted funding facilities that included a grant facility from the Finland government, a loan from Bank Paribus in the United Kingdom and additional finances from the Ghana government and the authority itself.
Its deployment would make it possible for the GMA to constantly monitor activities in deep sea, including the oil-rich fields off the shores of the west coast, where commercial production of oil is underway at the Jubilee Fields.
Although the project is yet to be inaugurated and subsequently zoom into action, Mr Azumah stressed that its contributions to the realisation of the country’s maritime hub concept were enormous. He explained that maritime industry experts in and out of the continent had already voted Ghana’s VTMIS system as the best in Africa, something he said could help drive traffic into the country.
“The system meets the International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) standard of surveillance, which is set at 99.8 per cent efficacy and the very fact that we have such facility even deters organised criminals from the domain. If the insurance people have the confidence because the risk levels are reduced, they are likely to reduce the insurance premiums (on vessels calling on Ghana’s maritime domain) and that will also reduce the cost of doing business. All these will translate into making our destination attractive, and for that matter a maritime hub,” Mr Azumah added.