Business News of 2014-03-25

Ghana won't commercialise ship registration — Maritime Authority

The Ghana Maritime Authority (GMA) says it does not intend to open up the registration of ships in the country's name to all interested ship owners worldwide.

That is in spite of the commercial value of the act to the nation and the authority in particular.

The opening up of vessel and ship registrations to potential and existing ship owners irrespective of nationality means that interested people and institutions could apply to the GMA to have their ships and vessels registered in Ghana's name. That will subsequently make it possible for those ships to fly with the national flag around the various maritime domains worldwide.

Although the registration and annual renewal of such licenses come with monetary value, the Director-General of the Maritime Authority, Mr Peter Issaka Azumah, said his outfit would not engage in that practice given the security threat it posed to the country.

"Right now, we have piracy, we have armed robbery and there is a lot of insecurity so if you open the registry up to everybody where the vessel you have registered does not even call in your port but carries your flag all over, then you are exposing the country to a lot of security issues. If pirates happen to hijack the ship and are demanding ransoms, then we (Ghana) would have to pay and that isn't good enough," Mr Azumah said.

Ship registration

Although ships and vessels are mostly owned by private individuals and/or institutions, international regulations demands that such ships be registered in the names of sovereign states and subsequently fly with the registered country's national flag.

Currently, there are about two main kinds of registration; the open registry or flag of convenience and close registry.

The flag of convenience makes it possible for ships to be registered in countries other than their origin and subsequently fly with that foreign country's flag.

The practice, which gained momentum in the 1920s, is mostly done to avoid strict regulations in the ship owner's country of origin.

Currently, unconfirmed information has it that neighboring Liberia and Panama, an island in North America, are leading in terms of the number of ships registered under the flag of convenience to fly with their respective national flags.

The closed, on the other hand, limits ship registration in a country's name to only those sailing into and out of the domain of the country of registry.

Needless responsibilities

Although the flag of convenience gives the beneficiary countries a lot of revenue and visibility in the maritime industry, it also comes with its own challenges.

Per the rules governing ship registrations, countries that register ships take full responsibility for the actions and inactions of such ships and vessels.

This, therefore, makes it possible for people to use the flag of registry to dent the image of a country involved in the maritime industry.

This, together with other related challenges, deter many countries, including Ghana, from opening up their ship registry to all kinds of people.

The country currently operates an abridged version of the open and close registry and that makes it possible for the Maritime Authority, to restrict foreign ships from flying with the national flag.

This, the DG of the Maritime Authority said, was to protect the image of the country in the international arena.

"We are not willing to open up our registry because the moment a ship is flying your flag, it means the ship belongs to you; it has your nationality and identity so the responsibility of the ship becomes yours. Do we want to take up those needless responsibilities," Mr Azumah asked.

Number of ships with Ghana flag

Information from the GMA showed that 23 ships were registered to fly with the national flag in 2011.

That represented a 43 per cent increase over the 13 ships registered in 2010.

The 2011 figure also brought the number of ships in the ship register, which is maintained by the GMA, to 428 ships, according to the data.

Out of this, 343 were fishing vessels; 30 were cargo vessels; 50 were small crafts and the remaining five were supply vessels and a tanker.

The authority explained on its website that the increase in ship numbers in 2011 was as a result of increased awareness created by the GMA to promote the Ghanaian Ship Register.