Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ndebele calls for cabotage rules to grow African maritime sector

October 16, 2009

By SLINDILE KHANYILE

Transport Minister Sbu Ndebele has called on African states to implement cabotage, a maritime transport regulatory rulebook, which he said was one of the quickest ways to develop the maritime sector on the continent.

Ndebele was speaking at the 2nd African Union conference of ministers responsible for maritime transport yesterday.

Countries use cabotage laws to dictate the terms that carriers must follow when transporting people or cargo within their borders.

If it is implemented in the region as proposed by Ndebele, it would mean goods moving from one African port destined for another port on the continent would only be moved by African-owned ships.

"Otherwise people are swallowing up all the work that would be done by Africans and we don't get anywhere in the supply chain," said Ndebele. "It is no longer about the beans and the maize, but about how it is transported."

In the year to March, cargo transported through South African ports weighed a total 14.2 million tons.

Ndebele said cabotage law could only be implemented towards the end of next year in South Africa because there would have to be some amendments to the Maritime Act.

In Nigeria, the principle exists on paper, but it is not really applied. The only other African country that implements it is Mozambique. It is applied strictly in countries like Brazil, China and the US.

Andrew Thomas, the chief executive of Ocean Africa Container Lines (OACL), said: "There is an existing cabotage network within the national borders and within the broader African Union. For example, OACL transports 600 000 tons of cabotage cargo annually. However, we do so by using economies of scale created by combining with international transshipment requirements."

The OACL is a joint venture between Safmarine and Grindrod. Thomas said any cabotage restrictions that were proposed should be considered in such a way as to maintain the economy of scale benefits.

Thato Tsautse, the chief executive of the SA Association of Ship Operators and Agents, said the level of cabotage would be determined by a number of variables like cargo volumes, the number of feeder operators and the number of countries in the region that are trading with South Africa.

"Many of these laws are designed to promote the development of domestic transport companies, and some cabotage laws have been criticised because they can restrict free trade," said Tsautse. "However, developing nations use cabotage laws in order to facilitate development of their maritime transport systems."

The delegates agreed that safety on African seas was the biggest challenge facing the continent and that unless this was addressed, it would be difficult to attract financial investment into the industry.

Ndebele said every country had a responsibility to ensure that it did not allow contraband goods from hijacked ships to land on its soil and be sold there.

The International Maritime Organisation has declared 2010 the year of the seafarer.

Internationally, there is a shortage of 34 000 officers and 200 000 non-officers.

South Africa is aiming to train 1 200 officers and 7 000 non-officers a year.