Thursday, May 13, 2007
ENSURING SAFETY ON THE VOLTA LAKE
THROUGHOUT history, movement of goods or transportation has traditionally underpinned the economy of every nation. Transportation serves to relocate goods to centers of demand, enhancing the value of the goods in the process and creating wealth, which is needed to run an economy.
Transportation comprises several modes such as carriage by rail, road air and sea, or water. However among the different modes, carriage by water is the most cost and energy efficient mode. As a result, over 90 per cent of cargo around the world is move by water.
A well structured and powerful transportation system which leverages the inherent advantages of the various modes therefore represents to every economy, a guarantee of efficiency and reliability; enable suppliers to deliver the right product, in the right quantity at right time and at the right place.
An efficient and reliable freight transportation system is therefore required to sustain growth in economic productivity. This has caused logistic interface between producers and distributors to now become critical in establishing competitiveness of products.
Accordingly, multi-modal transportation has now become a new national logistics paradigm as every nation Endeavour’s to combine the different modes of transport in order to effectively capitalize on their various inherent potentials.
One of the hallmarks of a modern, as opposed to a traditional, society, is that it is constantly seeking to improve the way it functions either by creating new institutions or by changing the way its existing institutions function, i.e. reforms Ghana’s transportation system has historically been the driving force for its economic growth, by serving to move vital raw material exports to the loading ports and redistributing manufactured imports around the country.
However, while our “highway” transportation system when they were first built had been adequate for meeting our immediate post independence economic needs, they are now ageing and are not particularly designed, in many cases, for changing industry haulage demands. Therefore as a modern economy the need for our transportation system to keep abreast with our economic development has now become necessary.
The creation of the Volta Lake, which straddles the main agricultural production centres of the Northern Region, Afram plains and the industrial areas of the south endowed Ghana with the benefit of a navigable waterway that could be integrated into the national transportation network.
It was a capability, which would have enabled us to capitalize on the inherent advantages of water transportation in order to improve and modernize our internal transportation system.
Water transportation delivers significant advantages when moving large quantities of bulk commodities over long distances, among which are fuel-efficiency, environmental benefits and relief of highway traffic congestion.
For example, one gallon of fuel can move one ton of freight 522 miles by barge, compared to 386 miles by rail and 59 miles by truck. The lake therefore would have served as an effective and efficient transport corridor between the Northern and Southern regions and would have improved our inland distribution system especially for agricultural produce.
Properly harnessed, the transportation potential of this waterway would have been quite enormous especially in view of current increasing energy prices.
Unfortunately improper safety management is now causing the lake’s economic potential to fast lose its appeal.
Much of the problems being faced on the lake now can be traced to a basic fundamental flaw that had existed in the managemental of the lake since its formation.
From the time of its creation up till now, management of the lake has been legally under the control of the Volta River Authority, an organization which basically was set up as a power utility and therefore possesses no technical, managerial or operational know how whatsoever for managing a potential commercial waterway like the Volta lake.
The Volta River Authority was never in a position to handle such a venture and provision, especially in the form of technical capability was never put in place to achieve this...
The Volta Lake Transport company which was ostensibly set up to operate the lake service was also purely for commercial purpose and did not concern itself much with the Lake’s required hardware.
Operation of a commercial waterway requires a hardware infrastructure set up in the form of buoyed channels, proper charting of the Lake and well trained maritime personnel to manage and maintain this hardware.
There is no indication that the VRA at anytime in its history has this capability. It is therefore not surprising that safety and other operational conditions on the lake have deteriorated to such an extent.
There also now appears to be a further misconception about the role of the Ghana Maritime Authority (GMA) in this issue. An impression is being created that the setting up of the GMA, which is expected to oversee activities on the lake, now would solve all the problems. Unfortunately this is also a wrong assumption.
The GMA is purely a maritime administrative authority. The GMA’s role like elsewhere in the world should basically be the software that ensures the proper and effective functioning of the hardware. The GMA’s task is to ensure that appropriate policies and regulations are set, monitored and complied with.
Among these the GMA ensures that the various organizations operationally responsible for the lake’s infrastructure are carrying out their tasks efficiently, are using trained personnel for the various operations and are using properly constructed boats.
As the legally designated apex body for the maritime industry, a significant responsibility of the GMA is the promotion of commerce and safety on the lake. It ensure that boats for example, are well constructed and suitable for their intended purpose by inspecting and certifying facilities that are used for constructing such boats. It also ensure that facilities for safety management such as light beacons, buoys and other navigational equipment are installed and properly maintained by the appropriate organizations concerned.
It should not be the GMA’s responsibility to install and maintain such equipment, unless the government equips it to do this, a task that I believe another organization will be more suitable to do.
In the USA, for example, the provision of infrastructure like dredging of navigation channels and ports, maintenance of lights and beacons is the responsibility of the US Army Corps of Engineers, while the US Coast Guard a body having some similar operational responsibilities like our GMA administers US maritime transport safety policies, involving issues such as inspection of seaworthiness of water crafts, competency of personnel etc.
The GMA should be equipped to handle purely the administrative aspects of Ghana’s essential waterborne commerce. On the lake issues, the GMA’s role should be to inspect and certify commercial boat building facilities, approve design of crafts, and certify competency of boat operators by prescribing required training needs. It should not be its responsibility to provide such training.
The GMA needs to be well resourced in the matter of maritime personnel such as Master Mariners, Naval Architects, legal personnel and other staff needed to operate an effective inspection regime so that it can ensure commercial facilities used in lake commerce comply to prescribe acceptable standards.
What is actually needed on the lake is an organization that can take responsibility for the operational and safety “hardware” required for operating the lake as a commercial waterway. Such a body is needed to set up and maintain required navigation system on the lake and to build and manage infrastructure for terminals or river ports.
The only body in the country that could effectively and efficiently carry out this function is the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA). The GPHA was set up to provide and maintain port facilities. It has the trained manpower and most important the technical knowledge for maintaining port or terminal facilities.
The GPHA is also the best body equipped operationally to assess the waterway port/terminal infrastructure needs and technically procure them. It has harbour master, port inspectors and vital hydrographic resources needed for ensuring efficient and appropriate running of a commercial waterway system.
Despite all the shortcomings that have been reported and attributed to GPHA in cargo movement issue, it is a well known fact among maritime professionals in the country that the GPHA under its local management was considered one of the best port managers in the developing world and Ghanaian port have been touted among the best managed in our category.
It is this managerial/operational/technical resource, considered a vital national strategic asset that should now be harnessed for the development of the transportation potential of the lake. Provision and maintenance of inland port infrastructure should be ceded to the GPHA if the waterway is to be integrated into the national transportation network, as it should.
The law that established the GPHA sought to create a corporate body to be responsible for the operation, management and administration of Ghanaian ports. PNDC. Law 160 enjoined the Authority to plan, build, develop manage, maintain, operate and control port in Ghana and in particular, to provide in a port such facilities as will be necessary for the port; maintain, extend and enlarge such facilities as it shall deem fit; regulate the use of any port and its facilities; maintain and deepen, as necessary, the approaches to the navigable waters within and outside the limit of any port and also maintain lighthouses and beacons and other navigational service and aids as may be necessary; carry on all of the business of stevedoring master portage service; provide and maintain pilot age service and, generally, discharge any other functions which are necessary or incidental to the provision of adequate port services.
Consequently, over the years, the GPHA has built a formidable infrastructure that has enabled it to effectively discharge this mandate.
There is ample evidence that the GPHA despite a few flaws has admirable fulfilled this mandate and I believe extending it to include inland waterway ports is the obvious solution to much of the problems on the waterway. Although the mandate was intended for seaports, with the integration of transportation modes it will not be wrong to legally extend this mandate.
With a proper administrative management system in place the actual operational infrastructure needs to be addressed. Currently the lake is not charted. Although this is considered as very costly, for any viable economic use of the lake it needs to be done.
Charting simple means producing a map of the lake especially its bottom contours. There are reports that this was schedule for the second phase of the lake’s development but was abandoned due to scarcity of funds.
This for example is an indication of the serious lack of maritime awareness among policy makers in Africa that has prevented the continent from effectively integrating water transportation into national transportation systems. Consequently transportation costs in Africa are among the highest and the most inefficient in the world.
Then there is the need to mark out designated channels. The frequent occurrence of boat collisions with submerged tree stumps is the result of a misconception among most landlubbers that boats can navigate in any stretch of water.
Even though the sea is wide and deep, ships keep to designated routes and in areas which are prone to dangers; special channels are marked out for use of vessels.
Bearing in mind that the lake was formed as a result of water flooding an area, there are always possibilities of the presence of tree stumps and other underwater obstacles. Operationally and financially it is impossible to clear the lake of all such tree stumps and obstacles as some parties believe.
You don’t clear the whole area between, say Accra and Aburi just to make it possible for vehicles to travel between the two cities-you simple survey, mark and construct a road, circumventing obstacles you deem economically unreasonable to remove.
The same principle applies to the waterway the whole Volta Lake can never be made navigable for boats. There is therefore a need to mark out appropriate routes between destinations on the lake, ensure these lanes are cleared of all obstructions such as tree stumps and properly indicated with markers-bouyed.
All prudent vehicle drivers’ use the demarcated roads and this is what ought to be done on the lake. These routes will frequently need to be monitored for floating objects much like road construction and maintenance, only in this case it is cheaper and maintenance.
A simple way will be to identify frequently used routes and carry out a wire sweep to detect tree stumps and remove them. (A wire sweep in its crude form is simple moving two boats towing a length of wire between them to snag any offending tree stump, which could then be removed).
I have seen such channels being maintained with simple mechanical grabs in the Asian region These grabs are mounted on barges moored at anywhere on the river which needs dredging or removal of an obstacle.
The grab is simple lowered onto whatever underwater obstacle needs to be removed and scooped up. They even use this method to dredge out developed sand banks in navigable river channels and use the dredge material for building construction- sand –winning.
The resulting channel can then be marked with beacons. Properly charting the lake will also enhance its tourist potential for sailing especially in view of its serene setting and possible eco tourism potential. You cannot however coax even the most hardened deep-water sailor to venture on to uncharted-waters such as our lake.
The expectation that the lake poses a tourist attraction in its current state-without a proper chart, is therefore a big myth. Of course there are several technical firms available to do a proper charting of the waterway if funs are made available.
The problem with financing is that policy makers in the country have failed to consider the waterway as part of the national transportation grid that should therefore attract a part of the national transportation budgetary allocation.
The type of crafts suitable for use on the lake will also need to be addressed. There was a newspaper article some weeks ago about a recommendation to change the construction of the boat currently being used on the lake, which is prone to breaking up when it hits a submerged tree stump. According to that article, the recommended type was found too expensive to build, so the old type is still being used and which has caused accidents almost every six months.
Sacrificing safety for financial reasons can never be an acceptable solution. Construction of crafts, especially for commercial use, must be legally controlled. Provision of a special type of boat suitable for our region is necessary because of its economic potential to local and intra regional trade distribution system.
The Middle East region is famous for its dhows, a locally produced craft that has been the backbone of the areas intra-regional trade. Similarly the South East Asia region has the legendary “Prahu Layer”, the locally designed craft that has probably been responsible for the region’s high percentage intra regional commerce. A similar craft designed and the built with local material – wood, for use on the lake and within the regions off shore trade will improve both material and style. The current boat type, which I believe the helmsman – coxswain sitting at the stern back of the craft especially in uncharted waters is a recipe for accidents.
Incorporation of structures such as outriggers-local bamboo can be used to help improve stability of local dugout canoes and improve their sea keeping capabilities. The provision of appropriate crafts suitably constructed to suit our local conditions is a must.
ECOWAS failure to achieve any meaningful regional economic integration is due to the failure to effectively exploit our maritime resources as the primary physical integration medium. The Region Maritime Academy if properly funded is very well equipped to carry out such needed research.
Malaysian boatyards currently build some very sleek and seaworthy fibre glass boats with shallow drafts used extensively for inter island ferries. These might be suitable and safe for use on our lakes and despite the amount it might cost may reduce the number of lives we usually lose in boat accidents.
Every water transportation system requires an efficient safety management system. Such a system usually has a search and rescue components. Apart from ensuring that few accidents occur, the system also ensures loses are minimized when accidents occur.
There is no indication that any such system exists on the Volta Lake, although according to international maritime journals, Ghana is supposed to have such a maritime search and rescue system in place.
The alert system exists to warn shore authorities when a boat encounters difficulties and a response system ensures required help is rendered as fast as possible in order to reduce fatality. At sea the alerting system has developed from manually activated radio warnings to a fully automated system that now uses dedicated orbiting satellites to pick up distress alerts and transmit them to shore-based equipment.
Without being too technical, a simple alerting system can be established on the lake using our mobile telephone system network. A dedicated mobile hand phone could be used with a special number nominated for distress purposes such as the 911 used for emergency alerts on land. A similar number can be picked up for safety alerting purposes on the lake.
The various police stations around the lake can be equipped to monitor this line and to receive alerts of any boats in problem. Carriage of such equipment should be made mandatory on all crafts used for commercial purpose on the lake.
Boat operators will also be required to relay such messages to other crafts in the area, which will be mandated by law to proceed to the assistance of distressed boats. The other part of the system will consist of a respond system.
This will involve special units trained to respond to such alerts.
A simple system will consist of a few fast rescue boats strategically stationed at various locations around the lake. Manned by a few trained personnel fully employed, the system will rely on the usual volunteers who can be signed up and trained to supplement this unit.
The Royal Lifeboat Institution in the UK is fully operated by volunteers. The system can capitalize on the local communal “Asafo” spirit, part of the cultural tradition of every tribe in Ghana to get volunteers.
Police posts receiving any alerts will inform the nearest unit, which can then rush to the scene to start rescue operations. These posts can also be equipped to render technical advise to boats whenever they are in problems and thus avoid the usual panic untrained boat handlers get into. Such advice can be in the form of verbal instructions given over telephone by trained personnel in basic boat handling techniques.
I believe if such advise is available in situations like for example when boat engines conk out in rough weather, boat operators may be able to follow simple technical instructions such as improvising sea anchors etc. to prevent excessive lee drift and avoid “broaching to” (presenting exposed side to waves) which has often resulted in boats being filled with water and capsizing.
Training forms the backbone of every safety system everyone can move a boat on water. It is only when something out of the ordinary happens that the value of training becomes apparent. The country’s laws do not allow anyone to drive a motor vehicle unless he has a valid driving license. It is therefore strange that commercial boat drivers are allowed to operate without being properly licensed.
Training and licensing should be made mandatory for boat drivers. Again road vehicles must undergo periodic inspections to assess their road worthiness; I believe the same should be strictly enforced. In the offshore maritime industry, this is carried out through periodic inspections by bodies approved by the national supervisory authority, in our case our GMA The same is done on inland waterways used for commerce in other countries.
Effective management of the waterway resources requires source of financing. The lack of maritime awareness among policy makers in the country has meant that the potential of water transportation has been seriously overlooked. Transportation policies have therefore not included provisions for funding for water transportation.
The government to its credit for example has allocated huge resources for road construction in various budgets but regrettable negligible if not at all for developing the potential of the lake. It needs also to be said that although the initial cost of providing a feasible transportation network on the lake might be quite high, its maintenance and operational cost after will be very low compared to roads and will also be able to move larger quantities of goods.
By granting a mandate to GPHA, the waterways can enjoy a cross subsidization from the other activities of the GPHA. In addition there are other sources of funding which cold be channeled to finance lake safety enhancing projects.
Apart from the government allocating a part of the road construction funds for this (basically to construct “roads on the lake), the government could also set up a maritime development fund such as a levy on all our export/trade.
Ghana exports on FOB and imports on CIF which practically means any improvement we make in the maritime transportation sector goes to benefit mostly foreign carriers, so a levy of such will benefit our nation more.
Alternatively, administration of the current shipping levy could be carried out by the GMA since it is now the body having oversight of national commercial maritime issues and also acting as the Government’s advisory body on maritime policies.
Doing so will therefore make the levy available for funding the development of the lake. With the world-wide move towards liberalization of the maritime industry, greater emphasis is now being placed on shipping costs being determined by market forces.
This is evidenced in Ghana for example, by the seeming inability of government to influence local shipping charges. Consequently, many of the functions of the bureaucracy put in place to administer such things as the cargo sharing in support of national shipping lines and also to negotiate favourable freight rates with the conferences in the Liner code era are no longer relevant, though some of these remain in place.
Since most of the functions previously carried out by these bureaucracies are now more of a commercial kind and as such need to be funded on a user-benefit basis rather than form national funds, the GMA or whichever organization is put in place to take charge of the safety hardware on the lake should have full access to this levy to use for developing the lake transport system.
Most of the problems being faced on the lake are not beyond the capability of Ghana’s maritime resources. Professional knows how, facilities required for training competent operational personnel and naval architectural needs are readily available in the country and only require proper and effective marshalling and management.
The capability of the Regional Maritime Academy should not be under rated as it has the potential required to meet all the sub region’s maritime resource needs. Ghanaian professionals are well known around the globe as great achievers.
The maritime industry is no exception. Let us marshal all our resources properly and effectively to ensure the economic potential of the nation’s economic development.
Daily Graphic - Thursday, May 13, 2007 Page : 19, 23 and 46.