By Andrew Mwangura
There are two important trade conferences that are scheduled to take place – one in Cairo and another in Mombasa next week.
The two separate events are African Continental Free Trade Area Conference – Cairo and African Cabotage Conference – Mombasa. The conferences are timely and epochal as they come in the wake of a highly promising future of trade in Africa.
In 2021, Afrika loaded 762.4million tons of cargo on to foreign owned merchant ships and discharged 553.2 million tons of the same in all African sea ports.
The regional and national shipping lines are handling less than five percent of this cargo leaving the entire bulk with the foreign owned and foreign managed merchant vessels.
Africa paid a whooping $762.4 billion in freight charges to transport her cargo on the foreign multinational liners in the period ending 2021.
It is estimated that African cargo by merchant ships will increase from 58 million tons to 132 million tons by 2030 with the implementation of AfCFTA.
Based on this , the African maritime fleet is projected to increase by 188% for bulk carriers and 180% for container vessels.
There’s a need for the revival of regional and national shipping lines to take advantage of the estimated growing cargo haulage from the continent.
In 1950s to 1980s, Africa had Black Star Line of Ghana, Nigerian National Shipping Line, Belgian Congo Line, East African National Shipping Line (EANSL) that did business within and without international waters.
The EANSL had six general cargo ships including Harambee, Jogoo, Uganda, Ujamaa, Mulungushi and Jitegemee. It had also a Liberian flagged chartered general cargo ship, SS Eva.
The EANSL was created as response of high shipping costs of US$56 million at the time which translates to about US$400 billion today’s currency apart from changeable politics of the Suez Canal and other critical water ways.
In order to revive regional and national shipping lines there is a need for the member states of the SADC and EAC to establish a carbotage law along the Western Indian Ocean region.
The regional and national shipping lines will help to lower the cost freight on the continent and also create jobs for millions of its African merchant mariners and earn the continent foreign exchange.
Currently, Kenya has 10,000 merchant mariners comprised of 54 marine engineers, 46 marine deck officers, two ET officers, 9,900 ratings, 500 engineer cadets, and 400 deck cadets. Eighty percent of the engineer cadets and deck cadets require seatime.
Since 1987, Philippines has been the world’s supplier of Seamen. Today, there are 380,000 Filipino seamen on board domestic and foreign-flagged merchant shipping vessels at any given time.
Last year, Filipino seafarers sent home US$ 6.54 billion in remittances
Mwangura is a Public Intellectual at Nautical Advisory Services.