Our Oceans Offer Massive Opportunity For Economic Growth

Earlier this month, I had the occasion to visit Colombia attending the World Maritime Day Parallel Event, a gathering of the International Maritime Organisation, hosted by one of the 174 member countries every year.  

Stepping onto the world stage, waving the International Maritime Organisation flag upon acceptance of the same from the Colombian vice president, Marta Ramirez, I made a commitment to fly South Africa’s flag and reclaim her place at the top table of the maritime nations of the world.  

Having been chosen to host the World Maritime Day Parallel event in 2020 is not only an acknowledgement of our strategic role as a maritime nation, but a call to action to take advantage of our vast maritime resources, to make the promise of a better life for all a lived reality.

Receiving the flag from Colombia, a nation emerging from decades of armed conflict and strife, yet rose from the ashes like the proverbial phoenix, emboldens us to step up to the plate and show the world what is possible. The warm hospitality of the people of Colombia, the magnificent city of Cartagena and the progressive engagements with fellow ministers during the high-level roundtable discussion set the bar high for the next parallel event on our shores. We dare not falter in our efforts to raise the bar even higher when the nations of the world descend on Durban in 2020.

We were encouraged by the support and commitment of the Secretary-General of the IMO, Kitack Lim, to work closely with us as we prepare for the 2020 event and towards the realisation of our maritime policy objectives.

As a maritime nation with 3 900 kilometres of coastline, which is strategically located in one of the busiest shipping routes, surrounded by three oceans on the eastern, western and southern seaboards, we are steadfast on our commitment to realise the goals and the objectives of the IMO. 

In the recent past, Cabinet approved South Africa’s national maritime policy, placing the country on a developmental trajectory, realised by unlocking the massive potential of our oceans economy. A coalition of nations that share a common goal of developing requisite capacity to maximise value from the oceans economy is our preferred path. It is for this reason that I concluded my visit with a bilateral engagement with my Colombian counterpart, Ángela Orozco. 

Our shared commitment to deepen the South-South relations underpinned by strong relations with Latin America are the cornerstones of our desire to work with Colombia alongside other nations in South America.

The declaration of intent on transport co-operation we signed with Colombia identifies transport infrastructure, technical standards, railways, aviation, regulation of ports and port authorities as some of the areas where knowledge, technical expertise and experiences will be shared. The declaration is a statement of intent that will give way to a more comprehensive and actionable memorandum of understanding between the two countries.

Over the last few years tentative steps have been taken by the two countries to forge closer working relations. To this end, we have been negotiating a Bilateral Air Services Agreement with Colombia and we are hopeful that the final agreement will enhance South Africa’s connectivity with the region. We are equally in the process of negotiating an Agreement on the mutual recognition of certificates of competency for seafarers. This agreement will enable seafarers of both countries to work and train on board ships flying flags of either country.

At the conclusion of our successful visit to Colombia, we are encouraged that the strategic objectives articulated in our comprehensive national maritime policy resonate with the goals and aspirations of the international community. We are determined to drive the implementation of this policy with the urgency and renewed determination. 

South Africa is in the process of putting in place building blocks towards the introduction of coastal shipping, which also extends to the region. Regional integration is a critical instrument in positioning maritime as a catalyst for economic renewal and growth. Our oceans offer the region and the continent massive opportunities for economic stimulation. We are well on track towards the realisation of this goal.

As we reflect on the constructive and inspiring engagements at the parallel event, we are forging ahead with preparations for the 2020 event in Durban. It is our desire to rally the continent to embrace the Durban event as a platform to find practical ways to accelerate interventions aimed at unlocking the oceans economy across Africa. 

  • Mbalula is Minister of Transport

OPINION: Fikile Mbalula