Ghana is in the process of setting up a vessel traffic management and information system (VTMIS) to provide electronic monitoring of its entire coast in an effort to counter piracy and armed robbery at sea.
“Already, we have started training our staff so that when the equipment comes they can be able to handle them at locations,” said Captain Kwabena Adu, a Senior Marine Officer of the Inspection of Ship Safety and Marine Pollution Department of the Ghana Maritime Authority (GMA). Speaking to local media late last month, he said that, “if the GMA does not manage things properly, there will be chaos on the sea.”
In February last year the Ghana Maritime Authority signed a contract with Eltel Networks of Finland to supply and install the VTMIS. The system is being funded by BNP Paribas. Ghana’s parliament last year approved a 17.6 million euro credit facility for the VTMIS with BNP Paribas.
The VTMIS consists of eight Remote Sensor Sites to be sited along the entire coast of Ghana from Keta to Half Assini; three Remote Base Stations (RBS) along the Volta Lake (for the inland waterways); three manned Area Control Centres (ACC) for the west, central and east sectors, and one National Control Centre (NCC). The latter will be located at Ghana Maritime Authority Headquarters in Accra.
The Remote Sensor Sites will each have communication Towers and equipped with marine radars, Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) and CCTVs for detecting and identifying ships and boats. Marine communication radio equipment with MF/HF and VHF frequencies and in compliance with the International Maritime Organization(IMO) mandated Global Maritime Safety and Distress Systems (GMDSS) and Long Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT) requirements for receiving regular ship reports will also be installed.
The Remote Sensor Sites will be equipped with meteorological and hydrological sensors to provide local weather data from the respective sites, which will be transferred to the Control Centres for broadcasting.
All data from the Remote Sites will be transferred to the manned Control Centres where operators will have display screens depicting vessel traffic. In addition, there will be provision for ten Monitoring Stations (MS) for selected stakeholders to monitor vessel traffic. Such stakeholders include National Security, Fisheries Commission, Narcotics Control Board, Ghana Immigration Service, Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority, Ghana Ports Harbours Authority, Regional Maritime University and others.
Last Friday Ghana’s Deputy Minister of Transport, Dzifa A Attivor, said that the system would serve the maritime industry by gathering and sharing information, alerting those at sea to possible dangers. Attivor made reference to the system during the tenth meeting of the Board of Governors of the Regional Maritime University (RMU) in Accra, which was attended by its five member countries and chaired by Gambia.
The VTMIS will also combat pollution, especially from vessels that illegally flush out their tanks at sea. Apart from monitoring activity at sea, the VTMIS is also equipped with sensors to provide information on weather conditions.
In February this year Ghana’s President John Atta Mills commissioned four new patrol boats for the Navy and said that, “In a similar collaborative effort, the Ministry of Transport, the Ghana Maritime Authority and the Ministry of Defence are establishing a Vessel Traffic Monitoring Information System (VTMIS) along the entire coast of Ghana,” which would include coastal radar stations with command and control centres. He said when that system was fully established it would be complemented with naval ships and maritime patrol aircraft. “We should be able to improve our operational control of our maritime domain,” he said.
“The maritime domain of Ghana is a major natural resource as it abounds with fisheries, minerals, hydrocarbons, facilities for ports and harbours, recreational beaches and the water itself for salt and other uses,” said the Minister of Transport, Collins Dauda, last year.
“Ghana is rapidly becoming a maritime trading hub for West and Central Africa. It has recently joined the group of oil producing countries and has a vibrant fishing and tourism industries which need to be protected hence the need for the installation and operation of the VTMIS”, he pointed out.
Ghana has been reviewing measures to safeguard its waters, most importantly to protect our oil installations from pirate attacks. Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea is not on the scale of that off Somalia, but analysts say an increase in scope and number of attacks in a region ill-equipped to counter the threat could affect shipping and investment. For instance, Cameroon blamed piracy for part of a 13 percent drop in oil output in 2009.
Other maritime problems include piracy and drug trafficking. The United Nations estimates that US$1 billion worth of cocaine, destined for Europe from Latin America, passed through West Africa in 2008.