At the African Maritime Domain Conference in Port Elizabeth yesterday, the South African Minister of Transport, Honourable Dipuo Peters called on African governments to find alternative sources of funding and drive aggressive investments into the maritime sector to promote regional integration and grow African economies.
Minister Peters highlighted that Africa was lagging behind developing and emerging countries in Asia due to major infrastructure challenges which were affecting intra-continental trade. “The shift in international trade from the west to East Asia and other developing and emerging markets presents an opportunity for Africa but this trend cannot be fully exploited under the current limitations.”
The Minister was speaking on the second day of the African Maritime Domain Conference 2014, which is currently underway at the Boardwalk International Convention Centre in Port Elizabeth, Nelson Mandela Bay and attended by Maritime and Government leaders from across the African Continent.
The conference is led by the South African Maritime Safety Authority which is the custodian for South Africa’s maritime industry and interests and brings together stakeholders to provide the platform upon which crucial maritime education, innovation, economical and skills development issues are addressed.
Minister Peters bemoaned the fact that Africa’s average growth over recent years hovered at just over 5% Asia was averaging at around 8.5%. It took longer and cost more to move imported and exported goods within Sub-Saharan Africa than it did from some countries outside the continent.
While noting the continuing challenges, Minister Peters expressed hope at the recent launch of the South African strategy for the oceans economy, Operation Phakisa, and key successes made in Cameroon, Senegal and Ghana among other countries in reducing “dwell time” in African Ports. [See: Reading between the lines for more].
She said was happy that many African countries were investing into ports and intermodal transportation infrastructure.
The Minister said there was scope for further improvement in the continent. “We need to improve our transport and communications infrastructure, security, and port operations so we can increase intra-Africa trade.”
We need to upgrade the infrastructure network that connects production centres to distribution hubs across the continent including road-to-port and rail-to-port infrastructure. It cannot be that intraregional trade in Africa accounts only for 15-20% of GDP while it’s between 30 – 41% in China and India.
The minister said there was work undertaken to implement the maritime policy. She announced that government was planning further investments into the ports of Ngqurha, East London, Saldanha, and Richards Bay to increase traffic handling capacities in the said ports.
The CEO of Transnet National Ports Authority, Tau Morwe, said the parastatal was actively involved in initiatives to improve regional trade, and to unlock the maritime sector to foster growth in South Africa and the continent at large.
“In order to create a thriving short sea shipping industry in South Africa we need to change the rules. [For example], foreign ships will need to drop-off their cargo at the port of call and leave, so that local vessels could take the cargo further to other local ports within South African seas,” said Morwe.
He added that the group wanted foreign vessels to spend less time in SA waters unless they are being repaired or serviced.
Conference deliberations yesterday focussed on best practices in many parts of the continent as well as European best practises. The role of business in moving towards a responsible maritime sector was highlighted with Paul Holthus of the World Oceans Council calling on South African and African businesses to join their global counterparts in “corporate ocean responsibility”.
Maritime clusters were proposed as the most effective aspects of the governance apparatus while following the examples of Norway and Nelson Mandela Bay.
The conference closed with discussions around interventions made at a Human Resource Development level. The conference heard that South Africa had set a Human Resource Development Council which was going to make a presentation on its work. The council is working to ensure maritime sector skills availability.
The conference will resume today, the final day, with focus on the role of universities in the maritime sector as well as best practises from China, Ghana, and Finland.
The African Maritine Domain Conference will conclude this evening with two signature events:
- Launch of the South African International Maritime Institute (SAIMI) by the South African Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr Blade Nzimande at 18h00 and
- The donation of a ship engine to SAIMI by Mr A. Bresnahan, the Vice President of Ship Power Development at Wartsila.
These events will be followed by a Conference Dinner at Port Elizabeth’s signature Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.