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The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is far advanced in its preparations towards establishing a Regional Shipping Line which will be christened, Sealink. In a meeting which was held from 16th-18th October in Lome for member countries, the establishment of a Regional Shipping Line was prioritised and a position paper was presented to member countries so they can assess and also make their recommendations. Speaking to the New M&TD after the meeting in Lome, Deputy Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Ghana Shippers Authority (GSA), Madam Sylvia Asana Owu gave a first-hand account of what transpired at the meeting.

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"Since 2005 the members of ECOWAS have thought it wise to come up with a Regional Shipping Line to promote intra African trade and also help with the food trade by making use of the services of the line, because we know that when you look at the west coast of Africa there is the ocean and it is the cheapest means of transporting goods" "We know that when we transport goods on the roads, eventually they are worn out and you have to spend money to fix the roads again. So the idea is to encourage businesses to use the sea to transport goods on the ocean in the region and also to encourage intra African trade" she articulated.

According to her, trade in Africa especially on the oceans is not getting any cheaper due to the processes vessels have to go through before reaching their destinations. She gave a classic example of how imported goods destined from Africa had to go around the world before finally calling on the shores of Africa. This she said led to a very high cost of doing business on the oceans of the continent. "For example if you transport goods from Nigeria to Senegal it has to go through Europe before it comes and sometimes transporting goods from Nigeria to Senegal is very expensive and it doesn't encourage people to use the vessels. Instead of importing something from Nigeria if you have to go through this hectic process, people will prefer to import directly from Europe, so in order to promote African trade ECOWAS thought it wise to have a regional shipping line" she said.

Since 2005, ECOWAS made it an agenda to set up a Regional Shipping Line and this has gone through the weather and has been thoroughly scrutinized. Within the past ten years, a lot of work has been done in the background to ensure that this project sees the light of day. So far so good, the project is moving from the stage of feasibility to implementation. Madam Asana Owu was further questioned on the form of ownership the Sealink will take and she explained by giving us the ownership background of ECOBANK which was established as a bank for member countries to make financial transactions and E-Payments among member countries efficient and reliable.

"This meeting was to look at how far they have gone with the project and to study the feasibility that has been done on it and move from this stage to the implementation stage. They have come out with some proposals that the ministers need to give consideration to and if it should be possible for member countries to support the activities of the line" "The people behind Sealink are those who promoted Ecobank so member countries are going to have shares. Shares will be floated to interested member countries"

Just a couple of weeks ago, the President of Ghana, His Excellency John Dramani Mahama made an emphatic pronouncement that the country was going to revive her dream of owning and operating a National Shipping Line. It will be recalled that the Maritime Professionals Club, added their voice to this declaration made by the president and called for the government to move from desiring to bring into reality its public statement of establishing a National Shipping Line.

Members states interested in the establishment of the Regional Shipping Line will have to make some commitments and possibly offer some concessions in order to make it a reality. The new M&TD quizzed The Deputy CEO of GSA if the timing was right for Ghana. "The truth of the matter is that, the Regional Shipping Line will complement the efforts of the National Line, at the recommendations of ECOWAS the regional line will work closely with the national line and also work closely with the logistic providers in the various countries because when they set up offices in the member countries they will have to identify logistics providers and work hand in hand with them and this will also create jobs for the various sectors directly under this project"

According GSA, they support and fully welcome the idea of establishing a National Shipping Line and have called on all Trade and Businesses Associations to be very keen and interested in this project. "We support the idea of a national shipping line and it is encouraging to hear the Head of State make that pronouncement. Just like the regional shipping line which will be owned by shippers regardless of where you are, we will encourage our Trade and Business Associations to be part of it because they can have a direct say when they are part owners, this is because when you have a share in something you have a say in the rates and charges and this can benefit you at the end of the day. If we have a National Line, a Regional Line and we have a say in its activities I believe at the end of the day it will benefit all of us because African lines have their unique challenges" The vision for this project is to foster inter-regional maritime passenger and freight services as a catalyst to trade development in and between sub-regions in Africa.
Source: All Africa