World Maritime Day is worth celebrating

World Maritime Day provides an opportunity to focus attention on the importance of maritime transport and other activities in the maritime domain and to highlight a particular aspect of IMO’s work.

ON 26 September 2019, Namibia joined the rest of the world in celebrating World Maritime Day, an initiative of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), a specialised agency of the UN. This day is celebrated annually during the last Thursday of September.

The theme for this year is ‘Empowering Women in the Maritime Community’ and its objective is to raise awareness on the importance of gender equality, in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and to highlight the important contribution of women all over the world to the maritime domain, i.e. the ocean space and everything related to it.

Planned national activities to celebrate this important day in Namibia for the first time ever, have been scrapped. This is rather unfortunate, considering that Namibia seeks to leverage the enormous potential of the maritime domain to address its socio-economic challenges and to position Namibia as a regional logistics hub. Non-observance of this day is, therefore, a lost opportunity for Namibia.

It is a lost opportunity to promote a better understanding of the significance of the maritime domain for Namibia and celebrate the contribution of all the actors in the domain, especially our women, who have for many years played second fiddle to their male counterparts. It is also a lost opportunity to reflect on the vital role of women in general, especially at a time when our country is grappled with extremely high levels of violence against our women.

The above notwithstanding, all is not lost. There are many positives worth celebrating in maritime Namibia.

The 5th National Development Plan (NDP 5) recognizes the strategic importance of the maritime domain and mandates that a national policy on the blue economy be developed using an inclusive approach. Accordingly, inter-sectoral structures at both political and technical levels have been establishment to craft the policy and serve as collaborative mechanisms that ensures that issues related to our ocean space (Namibia’s Exclusive Economic Zone) are addressed in a holistic manner and in keeping with the Preamble to the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which reads: “the problems of the ocean space are closely inter-related and need to be considered as a whole”.

The ultimate aim of the proposed policy is to provide for sustainable utilization of the goods and services that the ocean space offers to achieve economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs while preserving the health of the ocean. The complexity of the ocean space is accentuated by the fact that it is influenced by multiple activities, policies and diverse interests.

Further, action in one policy area with an impact on the ocean space may have positive or negative, intended or unintended effects on other policy areas or even other seas. The current marine phosphate vs fisheries dilemma is a good example in this regard.

Moreover, we are witnessing ever more intense use of our ocean space by all the sectors and, combined with climate change, this has added additional stress on the marine environment. Therefore, a holistic and integrated approach to ocean governance, rather than the ‘traditional’, sector-based regulation and management, is now recognized the world over as the best way to achieve a sustainable blue economy.

This new approach, which is at the center of Namibia’s blue economy policy, not only offers a more effective way of achieving harmonious policy goals, but also paves the way for developing shared, cross-cutting tools such as Marine Spatial Planning (MSP), Monitoring and Surveillance, and a common knowledge pool that allows for systematic identification of synergies, inefficiencies or possible conflicts in our ocean space.

The blue economy policy is not only a national imperative. It is anchored in, and gives effect to, regional, continental and international initiatives such as the  African Decade of the Seas and Oceans 2015-2025, the Africa Integrated Maritime Strategy 2050, the SDGs, and the recently launched High Level Panel on Sustainable Ocean Economy where our President, together with 13 other Heads of State and Government, work to increase international understanding of how the sustainable use of the oceans – and the ocean economy – can play a key role in meeting the world’s most vital needs and make a significant contribution to achieving the SDGs.

The involvement of our President in the above panel will no doubt lead to a greater appreciation of the strategic importance of our ocean space – our 15th Region – and the need to utilise its resources sustainably. At the same time, it will provide the necessary momentum and impetus to the finalization and conscientious implementation of the blue economy policy.

The recent inauguration of the new container terminal on reclaimed land in Walvis Bay is a gigantic step towards establishing Namibia as a regional logistics hub. The Ministry of Works and Transport, Namport, Walvis Bay Corridor Group and all the stakeholders who contributed to the successful execution of this critical project should thus all be applauded.

The ongoing National Single Window Project will address the latter to a large extent by significantly reducing the administrative burdens pertaining to importing and exporting goods through our ports. Being a logistics hub also requires an ecosystem of efficient players including a competent maritime administration, supported by a sound maritime transport policy and a sustainable talent pipeline.

We cannot, however, create a sustainable talent pipeline, when land-locked countries like Malawi and Uganda send more students than Namibia to apex institutions like the World Maritime University and the International Maritime Law Institute.

If we can address the above issues including transposing nearly 15 ratified IMO legal instruments into national law and achieve IMO white list status, Namibia will be highly regarded as a maritime nation.

Limited space does not allow me to enumerate the recent achievements in fisheries, marine and coastal tourism, marine mining and energy etc. But I know for sure that those sectors also have good stories to tell – stories worth celebrating on World Maritime Day 2019.

As we reflect on the role of women in the maritime domain and how we can urgently roll back the unacceptably high levels of violence against our women, I wish to sign off with a quote from British poet, writer and explorer Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618). His famous words have defined many a country’s maritime interests, then and today, and have transformed a small country like Britain into a great and wealthy empire. He said: “Whosoever commands the sea commands the trade; whosoever commands the trade of the world commands the riches of the world, and consequently the world itself.”

* Pinehas Auene is a deputy director in the Ministry of Works and Transport. These are his own views. (Article was shortened. Ed)