Florentina Ukonga, immediate past executive secretary of the Gulf of Guinea Commission (GGC), has expressed concern over the non-participation of maritime nations in Africa in maritime transportation and carriage of goods.
Speaking in Lagos at the just concluded Lagos Maritime Week (LIMWEEK 2023) organised by ZOE Maritime Resources Ltd, Ukonga said maritime transportation in Nigeria, and West and Central Africa is still grossly underdeveloped as the majority of the ships providing maritime transport services in the region are from Europe, Asia and the Far East.
According to her, Nigeria and many other countries in Africa cannot yet be classified as shipping nations without getting involved in ship ownership.
“It is a cause of great concern to maritime industry watchers that maritime transportation with so much potential for economic emancipation and the development of the coastal countries, is virtually in the hands of non-Africans and solidly in their control.
Ukonga said the situation has made it such that goods cannot move from one country to the other along the coast of West and Central Africa without first passing through Europe to be transshipped back to Africa.
“Whereas, if the maritime transportation is well developed, even if it is within the region, there should be ships plying these routes, stopping in almost all the ports of the region with shorter periods to transport goods from one country to another and not exceeding two to five sailing days en route. Right now, goods sent by ship from Luanda to Lagos take about three to four months minimum,” Ukonga said.
She said that if Africa’s maritime transportation sector really picks up, stakeholders will know what standards to aspire to keep and respect in order for them to be competitive.
She however urged African entrepreneurs to invest in maritime transportation either for goods transportation or for people transportation especially in inter-state maritime transportation.
“Our African countries are seriously missing in this sector. African countries should be involved in the regional maritime transportation sector even if we do not yet want to go to Europe, the USA, Asia or the Far East.
“Our goods for export and import should move from one country to the other with minimum delay. Also, we can be involved in maritime tourism. We can organise cruises from Luanda to Cape Verde and back. We go on cruises in the Caribbean, and we can do the same in our region,” she said.
According to her, it is a challenge to African entrepreneurs at the moment because Africans are minimally engaged in maritime transportation, a sector that should be better developed for the economic development and better empowerment of coastal communities in the region.
On maritime security and safety in the Gulf of Guinea region, Ukonga said the Gulf Guinea Commission is involved in a very important aspect of the maritime sector.
“We cannot have a vibrant maritime transportation if there is no maritime security or safety. From piracy attacks, robbery at sea, kidnappings, oil theft, smuggling, trafficking in arms, persons and drugs and other criminal activities at sea.
She said the commission has been a strong advocate with member states for cooperation and collaboration among their navies, coast guards and other maritime security agencies to ensure the security and safety of their maritime domain.
Ukonga said that member states are being encouraged to harmonise their legal texts to enable them to arrest and prosecute persons engaged in criminal activities in the maritime domain of the region.
According to her, countries in the region are responding positively and there is mutualisation of assets both material and human for effective deterrent collaboration.
“The advocacy is ongoing for greater collaboration among the member states. The navies and coast guards of West and Central Africa have agreed to set up a Combined Maritime Task Force (CMTF) with assets and personnel contributed by member states,” she added.