Recent piracy activities on the West African coast, and quite close to Ghana's maritime waters, have raised concerns from various quarters as to the country's preparedness to forestall any such occurrence, especially, with the discovery and exploitation of oil.
The Chief Justice, Her Ladyship Mrs. Justice Georgina Theodora Wood, has also expressed concern over the phenomenon, referring to it as a grave matter that would have dire consequences for Ghana, if not vigorously tackled by a multi-dimensional approach, with the judiciary playing its expected rule of law enforcement role robustly.
She expressed worry: 'We have not yet found a solution to the robberies on our highways and byways, and we are being introduced to a more serious form of banditry, this time, on our high seas.'
According to her, this menace, which could be linked to international terrorism, could also result in the high increase in insurance premium for the vessels involved, diversion of routes, and denying some areas importation and exportation of goods.
Thus, with the oil find in Ghana, 'It should be anticipated that pirates would find the coast of Ghana a fertile ground for their activities,' she predicted, based on a report by 'Africa Renewal' that oil-rich Nigeria was where most piracies in West Africa occur.
The Chief Justice established this concern in her address to judges of the superior courts of Ghana at the opening of the 7th Maritime Law Seminar held in Accra yesterday, to broaden their knowledge on specific areas of their work, in order to meet the just expectations of the people.
In view of the possibility of piracy activities on Ghana's coast, she suggested the strengthening of the legal regime of unlawful acts against the security of maritime navigation, and cooperation with other countries in the region and beyond on information sharing, and joint operations to fight the menace.
Mrs. Justice Wood indicated that the seminar was in the right direction, because 'As judges, our noble calling and our work has far reaching implications for citizens of Ghana and non-citizens alike.'
She added that in the light of the critical role played by the judiciary in national development, it was imperative for judges to be kept abreast with current trends in all areas of law, while expressiong appreciation to the Ghana Shippers Authority (GSA) and the Judicial Training Institute for organising the seminar.
The Minister for Transport, Alhaji Collins Dauda, said the recent pirate attacks off the coasts of Lome and Cotonou 'are now too close for comfort, and have undoubtedly, heightened our cause for concern.'
He further expressed worry that the menace of piracy, armed robbery, oil theft, damage to oil and gas pipelines, maritime accidents, marine pollution and other unlawful acts against shipping on the high seas and trading roots, especially, in the Gulf of Aden and along the West African coast, were indeed worrisome.
He pointed out that should Ghana allow acts of piracy to fester, 'Our competitiveness in international trade stands to be unduly affected to our detriment, as insurance premiums for our imports and exports will necessarily rise.'
However, he assured all that 'the Ghana Navy, the Ghana Maritime Authority and other allied agencies under my ministry are taking all the requisite steps to respond swiftly and appropriately to this menace.'
Alhaji Dauda said the importance of the seminar was undeniably underscored by the fact that international trade and transport continue to be a major driving force behind Ghana's economic development.
Stressing the need for the seminar, he pointed out that government revenue was largely derived from import duties, and over 90% of trade, both imports and exports was sea-borne, while 'the allied logistics that attend to imports and exports generates significant forward and backward linkages, including inland transportation, warehousing, banking, freight forwarding and other ancillary services that contribute immensely to our gross domestic product.'
He mentioned that it was thus necessary for the country to adopt a holistic approach to deal with all the issues that attend to trade and transport. Furthermore, he pledged his Ministry's commitment to work with Parliament to pass the GSA Regulations, with a view to creating an appropriate regulatory framework that would mandate the GSA to work with stakeholders to achieve the competitiveness, which shippers crave for.
On his part, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the GSA, Dr. Kofi Mbiah, noted that continuing education in the area of international maritime legislation for judges was of essence, because there exists a direct correlation between increased international commercial activity and the number of cases handled by the courts.
He said though international sea borne trade contracted by 4.5% in contrast with continuous increase of about 4.3% over the last decade, due to the worst global recession in 2009, by the end of 2010, Ghana's throughput had climbed to 13.9 million tonnes from 12.0 million tonnes in 2009, representing a 16% increase over that of 2009.
Also, at the end of September 2011, total throughput increased to 11.5 million tonnes and is further expected to reach 15 million tonnes by the end of the year, which makes it prudent to equip the judges for any court cases that would arise from the increased activity.
Dr. Mbiah stated that with the increased international commercial activity, including the oil and gas industry, Ghana would need to put in place appropriate structures and necessary framework, and build capacity to establish Accra as an important centre for arbitration of international commercial disputes in Africa.
Thus, 'The maritime law seminar for judges should be seen as an appropriate stepping stone towards the building of the requisite capacity for the realization of this objective.'
He pledged the GSA's commitment to assist the judiciary so that working with other stakeholders, judicial access, either by way of litigation in the formal courts or through arbitration could be quickened and made less burdensome for the benefit of all players involved in international commercial transactions.