World Maritime Day 2014: African states should make good on their maritime commitments


Pretoria, South Africa – International conventions and treaties are essential for protecting our seas and coastlines, and African states that have signed up should give effect to their commitments by ratifying and implementing them locally.

This is according to a statement by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) to mark World Maritime Day on 25 September 2014.

The United Nations’ specialised agency for maritime issues, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) today celebrates the 37th World Maritime Day.

This year’s theme is ‘IMO conventions: effective implementation’. The IMO has produced 53 international conventions and treaties covering all aspects of the maritime industry.

To take effect, they require ratification and implementation from most of the 170 IMO member states and three associate members – 42 of which are African states.

‘IMO conventions have the potential to make our seas, shipping and the lives of seafarers safer and more secure from hazards such as pollution and unsafe working practices’, said Timothy Walker, ISS researcher in the Conflict Management and Peacebuilding division in Pretoria.

‘Many people are not aware of how much we owe to internationally agreed upon IMO standards. But they do require a lot of technical expertise and capacity to implement, and ensuring that member states take the necessary actions is something the IMO has historically struggled to get widespread support for’.

IMO member states have until 2016 to implement the necessary measures before a mandatory audit commences. This audit will reveal the extent to which IMO conventions are being implemented, but will also show where support and assistance is needed. States now have a deadline for implementing the conventions and can indicate whether they intend to fulfil their maritime obligations.

Up to now, enough attention has not been paid to the challenges of implementing conventions. At the launch of World Maritime Day on 21 January 2014, IMO Secretary-General Koji Sekimizu highlighted both the lack of awareness about this highly technical process, as well as the importance of attaching long-term significance to implementing conventions.

‘The adoption of an IMO convention cannot be the end of a process. A conference is held, the text agreed, there are handshakes all round. But it’s not the end of the process. It should be just the end of the beginning. Because an IMO convention is only worthwhile and meaningful if it is effectively and universally implemented,’ Sekimizu said.

The International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS Code), for example, seeks to reduce the vulnerability of ships and ports to criminal activities. Some international observers, such as the US Coast Guard, have raised concerns that its provisions are inadequately implemented in some ports.

‘Some African countries, mostly from the Gulf of Guinea, use the code as a marketing label but do not apply its provisions properly,’ said Barthelemy Blede, ISS senior researcher in the Conflict Management and Peacebuilding division based in Dakar, Senegal.

‘African authorities should always bear in mind that accidents in the maritime domain can have tragic and irreversible consequences. A good example is the infamous accident of the Senegalese ferryboat, the M/SJOOLA, that resulted in the loss of 1 863 lives on the night of 26 September 2002 off Gambia’.

Several other conventions have yet to enter into force because more states need to ratify them. The International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships' Ballast Water and Sediments of 2004, for instance, would have a positive impact on the global environment.

‘The highly technical nature and requirements of ratifying IMO conventions often exceeds the capacity of signatory states’ said Walker. ‘The response has been, all too often, minimal or deferred implementation’.

In praise of World Maritime Day, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a message from New York on 22 September this year, ‘At a time when the world is beset by conflict and crisis, it is easy to forget that, day in and day out, the international shipping industry works quietly and efficiently to keep the wheels of global trade in motion and ensure the timely delivery of the goods and commodities ... On World Maritime Day, let us recall the often unheralded but always vital contribution by international shipping to peoples and communities all over the world.’

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