64 years on, nation must bring back the ‘Black Star Line’

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Bernard AKUFO-ADDO

Ghana at independence was described by many economists as one of the most ambitious countries in the world. Even before the first president, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, could set up his governance structure, the nation’s pride was the Black Star Line – a preeminent shipping line. Its first ship named the Volta River left Liverpool, England, in late November 1957 and arrived at Ghana’s Takoradi Harbour in early December.

The line’s initial plan was to run ships between Ghana and Europe, importing machinery, cement and other cargo to Ghana and exporting Ghanaian produce such as cocoa beans.

But trade volumes then were blamed as among the challenges that the BSL faced till it collapsed in the late 1990s.

Today, the call for the BSL to be brought back is loud. Many players in the sector have come to the realisation that the country is being seriously short-changed, and it would be of great benefit if a bold step is taken to resurrect the BSL in any shape or form.

The Ghana Maritime Authority recently announced that the Ghana Navy has begun the process to build some ships locally – but not to the scale for international trade. The question is, why should the nation not be ambitious and invest in getting a big vessel to achieve the maximum benefit.

The maritime sector is privy to the hard efforts being put in place to get a national carrier flying in the air, but a comparative analysis would show that with the current economic topography in Africa a national vessel would give greater benefit; but that will be talked about later in this article.

The nation’s industrialisation and infrastructure development agenda begs the acquisition of a vessel that will help it mobilise the necessary materials needed not only to facilitate economic growth but also make Ghana a maritime hub on the continent.

It has been noted that with hosting the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) secretariat, development of railway infrastructure, Ghana now more than ever needs to marshal resources or collaborate with the private sector to acquire a vessel for national purposes.

The Branch Secretary of the Nautical Institute, Captain William Amanhyia, has added his voice to this call by saying: “AfCFTA is great news for the maritime sector, and the nation must do all in its power to boost fortunes of the maritime sector by being the first African country to acquire a vessel for training and trade purposes.

“It is expensive, but we can do it. Government has a big vision, for example, with the railway project; we can buy a ship to commute all the materials for our infrastructure and industrialisation initiatives. Now we have the AfCFTA, and that is also coming with some great opportunities on the continent. We keep talking, but no one is listening,” he told the B&FT in an interview.

Currently, most vessels – foreign-owned – do not really find much profit in plying within Africa. For instance, if there is an export from Ghana to Lagos on a foreign vessel, it may decide to use Spain as its transhipment: meaning the export will go to Spain before going to Lagos, a development that means higher cost for the exporter coupled with the already exorbitant freight prices which exist.

This is a huge opportunity the nation can tap from with the roll-out of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). As border controls have been identified as among the major issues likely to impede the AfCFTA, the sea will be ready to ensure smooth transit trade among African states – and that can be a huge source of revenue as no African state currently owns a vessel.

The nation can also get to export cash crops at any time during the peak seasons without waiting for any foreign shipping line to determine the weight, destination, quantity of our cargo before they decide if they can carry or not.

Also, the new MPS Terminal 3 has a lot of ideal space, and if the nation has its own vessel it will have the opportunity to properly utilise the space.

Training and employing the youth

Captain William Amanhyia added that the move can help give meaningful remuneration to many Ghanaians, since the sector is supervised and regulated by international standards – with the well-being and safety of seafarers being paramount.

“The economy of seafaring is very good, but most people in Ghana do not know about it. That is one of the things we want to change. First of all, seafarers need a training ship. If the Ghana seafaring community gets a training ship, particularly at the Regional Maritime University, unemployment will reduce drastically.

“The maritime industry can employ 500-1,000 people every year, but we need to train them. The problem is that nobody wants to train the seafarers, they want people who are already cooked; training the seafarers is very expensive, and that is why government needs to take the initiative. The only thing they can do is that they should be able to buy a training ship for us,” Captain Amanhyia said.

Cost of vessels

A 500 to 1,000 passenger capacity vessel costs a cruise line about US$394million with a 1,000 to 2,000 passenger vessel costing US$442million – while a ship with space for 2,000 – 3,000 passengers costs on average US$555million.

“African nations do not understand that seafaring skills have become a strategic asset. Most companies globally want to employ from Africa, because the Europeans do not want to go to sea again. Nobody wants to go and spend three months outside living without his family; but we are very lucky that in Africa our family system is okay with it. This is the time we need to take advantage and get the best benefit out of it. We have been talking to governments all over Africa, but they seem not to care,” Captain Amanhyia lamented.

He added that Africa does not have a training ship. “America has just bought five brand-new ones for the nation, and each of them is able to take 600 people; multiply that by five and you realise that they are able to bring out 3,000 seafarers every year; we can do something like this as well, and we want the Ghana Maritime Authority to spearhead the process”.

Pros of maritime shipping

One of the biggest advantages of maritime shipping is that ships can carry all kinds of heavy goods. You will have to use ocean freight services if you are running a business that imports or exports heavy objects, as airplanes usually cannot transport such goods. And if they can, the cost of shipping will be very high.

Automobiles, various machinery, industrial parts and so on are just some of the things you won’t be able to transport by air (if you don’t want to spend a fortune, that is). So, the country’s industrialisation agenda and becoming a hub on the continent means that having a vessel will ensure a quick turnaround time and investors will be attracted to set up in Ghana and transport to other parts of the continent.

Affordability is also key, as shipment of goods is becoming more expensive by the day; and with the private sector’s firm grip of the sector and international vessels dictating the pace, it makes it difficult to control the sector as investments must be recouped to the fullest.

The fact that there’s so much space on cargo transportation vessels means it’s not hard to find the space for your goods. Then, there is also the fact that all businesses whose goods are being carried will share the cost of the specific vessel arriving at its destination. It is primarily because of these reasons that maritime shipping is among the most affordable ways to move your cargo. Government playing a role in this would mean that it fairly prices its operation, especially for goods moving around the continent, to ensure that foreign vessels to not take advantage of freight forwarders.

The cons of maritime shipping

Depending on the situation, the advantages we have discussed sometimes won’t suffice, as these cons could make you choose another form of shipping. If you need to transport your goods quickly, then maritime shipping will prove to be far worse for your needs than air shipping. Vessels usually have a long way to travel, and they are much slower than aircraft.

In a situation where an aircraft transports your goods in a day or two, a ship would need an entire month to do so (and that is if there are no delays). While the situation is improving and maritime shipping is becoming faster, if you need fast shipping – ships won’t do.

The key here is in deciding whether faster shipping will bring you more profit. If a much slower transportation speed won’t negatively influence the profits, then opting for much more affordable maritime shipping seems like the right thing to do.

This article was written with material from the B&FT and globaltrademag.com

>>>The writer is a logistics and maritime professional with about a decade of experience. He is a passionate shipping, logistics, transportation and marine operations coordinator who likes to use his technical knowledge and experience to develop processes and solutions to the industry. E-mail: [email protected]; Twitter:@AgyaYawNino; Ig:@bernardaddo

SOURCEBy Bernard AKUFO-ADDO
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