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WHAT ABOUT A NATIONAL SHIPPING LINE FOR GHANA ?

   Successive governments have for the past couple of years made frantic efforts to revamp the national air line carrier Ghana airways after its collapse. Governments indeed have tried many times to the point of even re branding and  changing the carriers’ name to Ghana International Airline but still couldn’t save it from extinction .

  In fact, very recently, the government has once again made mention of its intentions to revamp the national air carrier and the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) has also reiterated its readiness to partner government to make this a success. Having a national air line undoubtedly, is very important to the national developments, however considering the number of times stakeholders have tried and still failed , one may wonder “what about a national shipping line”?

 

   A couple of decades ago, the country used to own its own vessels through the national shipping line known as the Black Star Line (BSL).  The BSL owned lots of vessels that embarked upon regular sailing schedules around the world. In the late 70’s the BSL owned some of the top 16000 tonner vessels that marshaled export commodities like cocoa from those big silos around the Tema port to be exported to other countries. Vessels like Keta, Tano, Sissili and the Volta  flew the national flag and carried with it the identity and pride of the nation to which ever port they called.

   The Black Star Line however couldn’t stand the test of time due to what some experts believed to be the results of poor leadership coupled with corruption and poor corporate governance robbing the once enviable shipping line of its pride.

national shipping line, black star line
THE BLACK STAR LINE

   Ever since the collapse of this once famous shipping line, with the sale of its ships and assets and its office complex taken over by freight forwarders whiles its staff integrated themselves as much as they can with the other sectors of the shipping industry, no government (I stand to be corrected) has made any effort to revamp the national shipping line irrespective of the enormous benefits it would bring to the country.

    In fact many nations around the globe have revolutionized their economy by strategically harnessing the opportunities in the maritime industry eg. Singapore and Panama. Singapore, a nation with little natural resources for instance has evolved from a small regional ship repair and building center into a world class shipping and maritime hub by optimizing maritime transport and logistics.

   Ghana is a major import based economy, importing a greater percentage of the goods and services used in the country as well as exporting a great amount of raw materials in the form of timber, cocoa, bauxite etc. The absence of a national shipping line sometimes means that   goods would have to be carried by private shipping lines who in the interest of maximizing profits have to make other port calls prolonging the sea leg journey of the nations imports or exports, adding extra cost to the final price of the goods. For instance a typical cargo originating from somewhere in Asia and destined for Ghana would have to go through Europe where it is re-stowed (re handled) to be transshipped to Ghana. Note that,  re handling may cause damage to cargo whiles extra handling cost is also incorporated in the total cost of shipments making the price of the final product in Ghana more expensive.

Also Read THE RIPPLE EFFECT OF THE PANAMA CANAL’S EXPANSION ON WEST AFRICAN PORTS

   Also, an institution like the Regional Maritime University trains  lots of professionals like marine engineers and other related maritime professionals. With the absence of a national shipping line , some of this professionals end up working on foreign vessels worsening the “brain drain” scenario in the country.

  In conclusion, whiles  a national air line carrier is important to the developments of the country, so too is a national sea carrier and stake holders after trying multiple times to revamp the national airline should also start considering the acquisition of modern ocean liners to revamp the national shipping line too.

  Ghana airways has been given much attention over the past couple of years and has still not lived up to expectation so why not the Black Star Line?

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  • Don’t confuse Singapore’s development as Asia’s hub port and linked ship repair industry with having national flag carriers. NOL has been – even in a very competitive market – de-nationalised and merged with APL. The referred risks and exposure to Ghana’s trade and cost of transportation will not be neutralised by a national shipping company. Apart from that, Governments should Govern meaning create the right political stable and fiscal / economic environment for private operators to establish and develop logistic services and shipping activities. It will be better to create a National Flag of Ghana and facilitate operators and shipping lines calling Ghana Ports and support movement through Ghana’s ports with Ghana registered vessels for goods. On basis of such incentives one can imagine a Ghana Shipping Co. who cargo owners will be motivated to use due to its favourable impact on cost. This could have many forms such as e.g. pre-registration of customs formalities allowing fast transit and low demurrage cost, port expenses discounts for Ghana flag vessels etc… A PPP construction is an option where sustainable development is main focus with a balanced interest in People, Planet and Profit.

  • To focus on containers (although bulk is not in a healthier position), then the present day competition is sufficient to generate extremely low costs for shippers, often producing economic losses for the container carriers. Trade between Asia and West Africa is requiring transhipment less and less as the regions ports increase their capability and capacity. To be competitive on Asia-West Africa, one would need to deploy ships (potentially 10) of 8,000 TEU to create a quality weekly service. These ships ideally need to be more modern and economical than those build 10 years ago. That would be an extremely large investment, including also containers, agents, offices, etc, and the margins would be rather slim. Whilst there exists 5-6 major carriers with good quality international services into Ghana and West Africa, it is not necessary for Ghana as a whole to invest in this industry sector.

    As we will experience some increased transhipment activity in the major West African ports, then the market for coastal feedering will expand, and there in might lie an opportunity. Smaller and fewer ships needed, investment less, but margins will still not be high. Any void here in this market in terms of capacity is likely to be filled effectively by existing feedering specialist companies, such as X-Press Feeders who now have an almost global presence.

    As many have mentioned above, with always limited funds for infrastructure and logistics investments, I would believe that Ghana (and all West African countries) would be best served through inland logistics investments (including sea ports and terminals). This will create an efficient and cost effective supply chain upon which international investors might be more inclined to invest in manufacturing and other industries, creating new and more prosperity for all.

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