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Ministers explore ways to share rich ocean resources

By Biketi Kikechi | September 23rd 2015
Prime Minister of Mauritius Sir Anerood Jugnauth and ministers from the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) member countries during a meeting of the association in Mauritius last week. [Photo: Biketi Kikechi/Standard]

Insecurity and illegal fishing by powerful Western countries in territorial waters are some of the challenges facing Kenya and other Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) member countries.

Delegates from the 18 member states who met in Mauritius recently also explored ways of extracting seabed minerals, managing sea ports, and offering certification to protect marine life as they seek to improve the aquaculture business environment.

“Food security challenges among member countries, insecurity in the ocean waters and an expanded markets for goods are areas Kenya wants addressed,” said Joshua Mugodo, the Director of Economic Affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The First IORA Ministerial Blue Economy Conference was opened by the Prime Minister of Mauritius Sir Anerood Jugnauth and attended by delegates from 18 countries, among them Australia, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and South Africa.

Deep sea fishing

Mugodo told ministers present that Kenya had huge potential to expand the fisheries sector.

The IORA members want bigger economies like Australia, India, Singapore and Malaysia to provide resources so that all members can buy bigger and more powerful boats for deep sea fishing. It also emerged that unlike Kenya, many countries around the Indian Ocean provide a big employment base for a large number of people working on offshore projects.

Countries along the ocean have made heavy investments both on infrastructural development and training of manpower to exploit abundant resources in the ocean.

The smell of Tuna emanating from processing factories as one drives along the M1 and M2 motorways in Mauritius is a clear example of how countries along the ocean are making a kill from the blue economy.

All the fish is exported to Europe, making it a key foreign exchange earner after tourism and sugar exports. Mauritius is currently undertaking a major expansion of its port at Port Louis to handle large commercial ships as increasing cargo volumes overwhelm the current facility.

In his speech, Tanzanian Minister for Livestock and Fisheries Titus Kamani asked members to work together  to develop inland marine resources in lakes like Tanzania and Victoria.

“We need to involve fishermen, traders and processors in integrating trade to boost food security and management of the lakes,” he said.

Tanzania is also keen on seeing better ocean monitoring controls, joint patrols to combat illegal fishing and containing insecurity posed by sea pirates and drug barons.

To harness blue economy opportunities, Kenya has developed a management strategic plan to attract investment. “The next step is for us to call a stakeholders’ meeting in the country to discuss how to develop a business model that will fully exploit blue economy resources,” said Dr Betty Minitraa Nyonje from the State Department of Fisheries.

The Indian ocean rim countries are blessed with a vast maritime zone of 2.3 million square kilometres. Mauritius boasts an exclusive economic zone which is a fifth of the largest Exclusive Economic Zone in the world.

“The Ocean to which we belong is home to the second largest tuna stock in the world. Annual aquaculture potential for only the South-Western region of Mauritius exceeds 10,000 tonnes,” said Prime Minister Jugnauth.

Every year, around 30,000 ships cruise through Mauritius maritime waters, making Port Louis a highly-likely hub for port-related activities.

The Indian Ocean seawater is extremely cold and nutrient rich, which makes it a natural asset for Deep Ocean Water Applications, such as seawater air conditioning, high end aquaculture, thalassotherapy (medical use of seawater as a form of therapy), premium bottled water, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.

In Mauritius, a first Deep Ocean Water Applications concession agreement will be signed shortly. The recent discoveries of offshore oil and gas in Mozambique, Madagascar, Tanzania and Kenya, and the high likelihood of similar discoveries in the zone, makes the seabed a strategic asset.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Steven Ciobo told the conference that the ocean territory contributes over $47 billion to the Australian economy each year through tourism, offshore oil and gas, aquaculture, fishing, and shipping.

“We want to see marine economic activity as a similar driver for Indian Ocean rim economies. That is why we introduced the blue economy as the topic of the Ministerial retreat at the 2014 Council of Ministers’ Meeting in Perth,” said Ciobo.

Australia, however, sees great growth potential in the shared resource, and has cautioned IORA members to recognise that the ocean is increasingly under stress and exploiting its resources needs to be done sustainably.

The Indian Ocean economic giant asked countries in the region to embrace scientific research and innovation — one of Australia’s strengths. “Last month, we launched the National Marine Science Plan which was developed in consultation with marine research organisations, universities, government, scientists and stakeholders.

In Mauritius, the Minister of Ocean Economy, Marine resources, Fisheries, Shipping and Outer Islands Premdut Koonjoo, was concerned with the vulnerability of the maritime territory to a wide array of threats.

“The threat posed to marine ecosystems by microorganism contamination from ballast water needs to be addressed as it could downplay our efforts in promoting the aquaculture or coastal tourism industry,” said Koonjoo.

Maritime security

He also asked IORA members to step up efforts to reduce air pollution from ships because they generate 30 per cent of Global Nitogren oxide and 10 per cent of Global Sulphur oxide. One ship’s emission is equal to that of 350,000 cars.

In the same vein, maritime security remains a major threat to the region as reported in the recent past, when countries had to deal with the persistent scourge of piracy off the coast of Somalia.

The challenges it posed to private sector development, regional and international trade, economic integration and development, were far reaching. Speaking at a news briefing with journalists Mr Arif Havas, the Deputy Minister of Matritime Affairs Indonesia, called for the empowerment of women and facilitation of small entrepreneurs to participate in the development of the Blue Economy which is essential for sustainable economic growth.

The next IORA Ministerial Blue Economy Conference meeting will be hosted by Indonesia in 2017.

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