Regional countries champion tough ship registration rules

Jolly Oro Ship waits for offloading at Mombasa Port on Dec 5, 2023. [Omondi Onyango, Standard]

Ships in countries in the Eastern, Southern and Northern Africa (ESNA) region will soon be registered under one standardised platform if a new policy that seeks the creation of that platform is adopted.

A common registration platform will mean ships will pay similar registration fees, adhere to a similar inspection routine and face similar strident regulations.

ESNA is working on a regional maritime transport policy that will ensure such a platform is created.

The policy was first built by ESNA’s Mombasa-based Intergovernmental Standing Committee on Shipping (ISCOS) and is being shaped by member states to promote trade and integration in Africa.

The policy underscores the importance of a transparent and standardized system for the ownership and registration of ships within the member states.

It urges implementation of measures that facilitate easy and secure registration processes, ensuring compliance with international standards and conventions.

The policy seeks to promote a conducive environment for domestic ship ownership, aiming to boost the national maritime industry.

It emphasises the significance of maintaining accurate and up-to-date ship registries to enhance maritime safety, security and overall regulatory efficiency across East, Southern, and Northern Africa.

Delegates from the three regions met in Mombasa recently to discuss the ambitious policy that encourages maritime participation and access in the region which has big cargo volumes but is reportedly disadvantaged in its management and carriage in international trade.

In the realm of regional maritime cabotage, the policy envisions the establishment of a comprehensive framework that promotes and regulates coastal shipping activities within the region.

Member states are encouraged to foster an environment where domestic vessels are utilized for maritime transport between ports, enhancing economic activities, regional connectivity, and overall maritime sector development.

ISCOS was founded by Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia way back in 1967, after regional states faced challenges in shipping and maritime trade which each of them would not handle due to the international, technical nature, geographical location and complexities of the issues involved.

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) joined ISCOS in September 2023 and now the regional body is expanding membership to the rest of the states in the Eastern, Southern, Northern Africa and Indian Ocean island countries.

The regional organisation is mandated with the promotion, protection, and coordination of the shipping and maritime interests of the member states and the region at large.

The other countries set to join ISCOS are Mozambique, South Africa, Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles, Comoros, Somalia, Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia.

ISCOS is in the process of rebranding into the Maritime Organisation for Eastern, Southern and Northern Africa (MOESNA).

Kenya’s Principal Secretary for Shipping and Maritime Affairs Geofrey Kaituko, urged the regional states to harmonise their maritime policies to foster cooperation and regional integration to enable Africa to benefit from international trade through water transport.

“As you are aware, water transport accounts for moving over 80 per cent of all the cargo involved in international trade - over 12 billion tonnes each year - with Africa contributing a paltry 6 percent, that is interestingly growing rapidly at an average rate of 8 percent which is higher than the world’s average of 2.5 percent,” said Kaituko.

“Unfortunately, for Africa these volumes are transported almost exclusively by multinational shipping lines domiciled outside the continent. This leaves our continent exposed, very vulnerable and at the mercy of these multinational service providers who dictate the terms and conditions of carriage.”

He said this is one of the main reasons the region’s states are exploring ways in which they can take control or at least have a say on how their cargo is managed and transported.

“There is need for us as a region to collaborate more and create synergies that will give us a bigger say and capacities in handling of our cargo and the general shipping and maritime affairs of the region,” he stated.

According to ISCOS Secretary General Daniel Kiange, the policy adheres to the principles outlined in the African Maritime Transport Charter developed under the African Union.

Through the policy, ISCOS member states aim to reduce the carbon footprint associated with shipping activities and safeguard marine ecosystems.

The policy guides member states towards strategic investments in port modernisation.

Member states are also encouraged to invest in maritime education and professional development to build a skilled, diverse and proficient workforce capable of supporting the growth and sustainability of the maritime sector in East, Southern, and Northern Africa.

The delegations included representatives from ministries responsible for shipping.

Others were from customs, national coast guard agencies and marine police, insurance regulators and associations and shipping and Maritime experts from across the region as well as regional organisations.

In the report, delegates noted that African states continue to lose enormous resources due to disjointed and uncoordinated approaches in a sector regarded as the lifeblood of international trade.

“Much of cargo from Africa is still principally transported by multinational carriers and subjected to policies and conditions which are alien,” says the report.

The delegates noted that the potential of trade between African states has not been fully exploited due to reliance on road and air connectivity and presence of restrictive trade protocols and cabotage regimes.

“Even with almost 90 percent of world trade transported by sea aboard ships manned by about 1.9 million global crew, Africa’s share of this vast employment opportunity remains very decimal, yet Africa’s contribution to the global volumes of cargo is enormous,” says the report.