By Godfrey Bivbere
Mr. Koffi Mbiah isÂ the ManagingÂ Director of the Ghana Shippersâ€™ Authority, and was in Nigeria recently to participate in the 11th edition of the Nigerian Shippersâ€™ Councilâ€™s Mari-time Seminar for judges.
In this interview with Godwin Oritse, Mbiah stated that Nigeria and Ghana are working to change the face of maritime trade in the Sub-region. Below are excerpts.
This is the 11th edition of the Nigerian Shippersâ€™ Council seminar for judges and I do know that Ghana took a cue from Nigeria to institute its own seminar for judges, how has it been?
I think it has gone so far very well, for the reason Nigeria put in place, the maritime law seminar for judges for those sameÂ reasons we instituted the Ghanaian maritime law seminar for in Ghana.
I think the under lining reason being that maritime law is a specialised area, although every one goes to law school but the common practice is that we do not study maritime law and a lot of our judges therefore, even though they are very conversant in the dispensation of justice, when it comes to issues of maritime law, some times there is a need to ensure that they apply the rules, the conventions, as they have been developed internationally.
I am aware that the International Ship and Port Facility Security code (ISPS) has been passed into law in Ghana, how were you able to doÂ this and how long has this been done?
Are you sure that it has been passed into law in Nigeria?
Well, I do not know, you will know better than I do. In June 2004, the ISPS code was supposed to be in place and countries were supposed to conform.
Consequently, we passed our legislation in 2006 and have gone through the processes of implementation as far as requirement of the ISPS code is concerned.
The implementation by way of security require-ments at the ports have been completed, we are also at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) white list, which is an indication that we have complied with the very basic tenets of the ISPS code
Has the Ghanaian version of the maritime seminar for judges in any way added value to the operations of the maritime industry in Ghana?
I think that if there is one landmark when it comes to the entire adjudication process of maritime cases, one can say that the judges seminar has been very instrumental in assisting judges, not only Ghana but also in Nigeria.
This is because apart from the lectures that are held, there is a compilation of the lectures into books which have become ready reference materials for judges and lawyers alike.
In Ghana, for instance, there are a number of judges who keep copies of these books so that they can have ready reference materials.
On that score, it has been very good as it has brought about a lot of awareness that maritime law is a specialised area and, consequently, we have a lot of youths taking up courses in maritime law.
At the Regional Maritime University, beginning from this year, they started a maritime law programme which is as a result of the awakening andÂ conscious-ness that came as result of the maritime law seminar for judges.
The shippers themselves now have more confidence to bring their maritime matters to court.
Before now, because of the perception that judges were not very knowledge-able in maritime law when it came to the dispensation of justice, and they were not likely to have justice from the court, they refrained from going to court at all.
But now some confidence has been built, and a lot of shippers are taking their maritime law cases to court.
How well has concession fared in Ghana?
Ghana has also gone in the same direction like Nigeria, to a large extent a lot of port operation work is done by private companies.
I would say that Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority, which was mainly responsible for about 70-75 per cent of stevedoring, has now out stevedoring functions to the private sector.
It now handles only about 30 per cent of stevedoring andÂ 70 per cent have been distributed among various privateÂ sector operators
We also have a container terminal dedicated for handling of containers and that is also handled by the Meridian Ports Services, a consortium of various companies.
Apart from that, there are other off-dock terminals that are also being handled by the private sector.
Though the level of private sector participation in ports in Ghana have increased, however, it must be mentioned that the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority is still in control of the facilities in the ports.
The maintenance of the channels, the turning basin, the dredging in the ports and other facilities in the ports, and giving out areas for rent are all still being handled by the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority.
The issue of CargoÂ Tracking Note has become very controversial in Nigeria and the Senate has condemned the process through which the project was brought into the ports industry. What is it like in Ghana?
Ghana has not yet implemented the Cargo Tracking Note but it came to us as a surprise that it theNigerianÂ Ports Authority that is implementing the Cargo Tracking Note in Nigeria
Cargo Tracking is essentially for owners of cargo, and the interest of these cargo owners are invariably protected by the shippersâ€™ organisations in their respective countries.
So, in almost all the countries as far as my knowledge goes, it is the shippers organisations that are implementing the Cargo Tracking Note.
The Cargo Tracking Note, in actual fact, is meant to provide information that will be used for the benefit of importers and exporters who are shippers.
In any case, it is their cargo which is being brought and information is needed on that cargo. So, basically, it is a Shippers Council thing rather than a port authority thing.
The Nigerian Shippers Council turned down its involvement in the implementation of the Cargo Tracking Note project for unknown reasons?
Well, I will be surprised if they turned it down because in almost all of West and Central Africa, it is the shippersâ€™ organisÂ Â Â ations that are handling the CTN project because it provides information that are used to boost statistics.
It also gives indication as to where a particular cargo is at a point in time. This is because any assistance provided to shippers is dependent on that information on that container: where it is located at that time so that you can tell a cargo owner that his cargo is not lost, his cargo has been traced, or his cargo is awaiting trans-shipment, it is being moved from point â€˜Aâ€™ to point â€˜Bâ€™.
These information are supplied by shippers and those who protect the interest of shippers
You said the Cargo Tracking Note project is yet to be passed into law?
Yes. We have done the draft law, it has gone to the Ministry and very soon I am sure it will go to parliament and then the Ghana Shippers Authority will begin to implement.
Beyond the maritime seminar for judges, what other areas of collaboration have Ghana and Nigeria exploited for mutual benefits?
We have collaborations on many fronts with our counterparts – the Nigerian Shippers Council.
I know also that there is collaboration among the Ports Authorities of Ghana and Nigeria but I can speak more about the collaboration between the Shipper Councils because basically at various fora, we exchange notes and it has been very useful in terms of information on how we can execute plans and programmes for the benefits of importers and exporters.
We also agree at such meetings when it also comes to international legislation. For example, the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCILTRAL) recently developed a new convention for the carriage by sea, and Ghana and Nigeria played very prominent roles in terms of the enunciations of the rules for the carriage of goods by sea.
Both countries worked together, we hadÂ meetings here in Nigeria and also in Ghana so there was a strong collaboration. We developed the document jointly which was sent to UNCILTRAL and which has reflected in the finalÂ document thatÂ has been adopted.
So, on various fronts in terms of harmonisation of legislation, exchange of information, information flow, statistics, website development, we collaborated in these areas.
Where do we see this collaboration taking Nigeria and Ghana to in the next five or ten years?
I have heard people talked about local content development in Nigeria in respect to oil and gas, but beyond oil and gas, there is still the need to develop local capacity and also local content in the maritime sector so that our own people can play significant roles when it comes to the carriage by sea, either by way of ownership of vessels, freight forwarding, provision of logistics.
We want to see increasing number of our people involve in this trade when it comes to the technology that ought to be applied in the clearance of cargo from the ports because we want these things to be handled by our people.
In the next 5-10 years, I have no doubt that these collaborations would have led us to get our people to participate actively in this respect.