South Africa now a member of the International Maritime Organisation


More impetus has come the way of the blue economy sector of President Jacob Zuma’s Operation Phakisa initiative with South Africa this week being named as a Category C member of the Council of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).

Category C members are states which have special interests in maritime transport or navigation and whose election to the Council will ensure representation of all the world’s major geographic areas, the IMO said.

Other Category C members are Australia, Bahamas, Belgium, Chile, Cyprus, Denmark, Egypt, Indonesia, Kenya, Liberia, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Morocco, Peru, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Turkey.

Speaking after South Africa was voted aboard, Deputy Transport Minister Sindisiwe Chikunga said the voice of African countries on maritime issues would be strengthened by South Africa’s presence on the global council of the UN multilateral body.
“We stand to benefit immensely as the African continent from South Africa’s election to the IMO council. This is where critical decisions are made with regard to global maritime affairs, ranging from the ocean economy, rescue initiatives and safety and security matters at sea,” Chikunga said.

She said South Africa’s election to the council comes at a time when the country is embarking on a new ambitious chapter of unlocking the country’s maritime potential through the blue oceans’ Economy strategy and Operation Phakisa.
“With a coastline totalling 3 900 km we believe there’s plenty of untapped potential at sea. Through Operation Phakisa we have identified projects that will ensure the oceans’ economy is realised,” the Deputy Minister said.

South Africa’s arrival as a player on the UN’s international maritime decision making body comes just over a week after the sudden and unexpected cancellation of the Maritime Africa conference and exhibition in Cape Town. Maritime industry observers maintain the cancellation left an unnecessary gap in the national debate around the blue economy and its part in Operation Phakisa.

The conference was to have included seminars specific to Operation Phakisa and the visit of a Spanish offshore patrol vessel (OPV) was timed to coincide with the event. This was seen as an endorsement of the three vessel OPV tender currently being assessed by Armscor to provide the SA Navy with an improved and stronger patrol capability.

Launching the blue economy phase of Operation Phakisa in Durban in October last year, President Jacob Zuma said the ocean around the southern tip of Africa could contribute around a million jobs via shipbuilding and mineral and resource extraction by 2033. An integral part of his blue economy vision is an improved ability to patrol and provide security in South Africa’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). This is where the maritime arm of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) comes in with the acquisition of three each of inshore and offshore patrol vessels.

The SA Navy’s patrol capabilities currently reside in its four Valour Class frigates and three Heroine Class submarines as far as blue water is concerned with three of its former strikecraft now modified and serving as OPVs.

Timothy Walker, Institute for Security Studies (ISS) researcher in conflict management and peacebuilding, is the Pretoria-headquartered think-tank’s go-to man on the blue economy.

He maintains Africa’s lack of a broad maritime culture is the result of the continent’s colonial legacy which forced countries to look inwards.
“The consequences are astounding. Illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing is estimated to cost sub-Saharan Africa approximately US$1 billion a year in lost revenue. Somalia-based piracy cost an estimated US$7 billion in 2011. And it is estimated that 50 to 60 tons of cocaine move through West Africa to Europe annually.
“Yet states on all coasts of Africa depend on a secure sea. More than 90% of Africa’s trade is seaborne, fishing contributes to food security for more than 200 million Africans and vast oil and gas potential lies off the coast.
“Most African countries lack policies for ocean governance. Only five countries in Africa currently have dedicated coast guards, though many navies effectively conduct coast guard operations. The lack of extensive maritime air surveillance and satellite imagery makes it almost impossible for African countries to effectively monitor their territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ).
“The consequences are damaging coastal communities and states as a whole, and fuel global security problems. While piracy around the Horn of Africa is declining, seafarers are still at risk and many remain in captivity. And Somali pirates haven’t gone away: they are just doing other illegal business.
“Maritime crime is increasing in the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea from Angola to Ghana, including piracy, people and drug smuggling and arms trafficking. This fuels onshore instability. Illegal waste dumping, infrastructure maintenance and port security also constitute major concerns for Africa’s oceans. Additional threats come from boundary disputes and potential conflict over resources.
“Africa’s marine environment is globally significant too, as a great deal of international shipping passes through our seas. Maritime schedules are worked out years in advance, so even a single incident of piracy, or the failure of just one port to prevent armed robbery, spreads ripples through the global economy.
“Fortunately, African states and international organisations are paying increasing attention to maritime security. No African country can secure its maritime domain alone, however. The seas are huge. It’s a fantasy to imagine any country can secure its maritime domain alone; not even the United States of America is capable of that kind of control over its waters. The seas don’t have fences, fish don’t respect borders and oil and gas deposits tend to straddle multiple territories. Criminals can easily cross boundaries to evade capture,” he writes on the ISS website.

In Walker’s opinion the best chance of overcoming challenges and creating prosperity is through international co-operation and he also sees Operation Phakisa containing valuable lessons for other African countries.
“It aims to create wealth and development by exploiting the untapped bonanza of maritime resources. It includes detailed plans for four focal areas – marine transport and manufacturing, offshore oil and gas exploration, aquaculture and marine protection, and ocean governance.”