Prez Mahama Inaugurates Vessel Tracking System

Ghana made significant inroads into the global maritime industry Tuesday when the President, Mr John Dramani Mahama, inaugurated Africa's biggest Vessel Traffic Management Information System (VTMIS) at the Ghana Maritime Authority ( GMA) in Accra. The about 16-million Euros facility, a collaboration between the governments of Ghana and Finland, has a long range identification system that can track vessels within a range of 1,000 nautical miles. Facility The system meets up to 99.8 per cent of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) standards. The VTMIS, which is an integrated system to enhance electronic surveillance on the entire coast of Ghana and beyond, also includes an automatic identification system for vessels and boats operating on the Volta Lake. It has eight remote sensor sites for coastal surveillance, in addition to three remote base stations. It also has weather sensors. Long range tracking A buoyant President Mahama said Ghana would share information provided by the equipment with other countries along the Gulf of Guinea, so that together they could fight piracy, drug trafficking and related crimes along the coast. He said it was refreshing that the system could track vessels from almost Mauritania to Angola and halfway between Africa and Latin America. President Mahama said the "phenomenal project" was something that Ghana and, indeed, countries along the Gulf of Guinea should celebrate. He said at the last ECOWAS meeting, he informed his colleagues about the project and promised that when completed, Ghana would share information provided by the system with its sister nations. The President said although Ghana's waters were known to be the safest in Africa, that never let the government to go sleeping and stated that with the new equipment, "our waters are going to be even safer." Piracy Mr Mahama said maritime safety and security had become a global concern as a result of the incidence of piracy, especially around the Horn of Africa and recently along the Gulf of Guinea. " In 2012/2013, reported incident of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea exceeded the Horn of Africa, " he said, and explained that that led the United Nations Security Council to advise countries along the Gulf of Guinea to collaborate to fight the canker. Drug trade Added to the piracy, the President said, was the drug trade which also provided a serious security concern for countries along the Gulf of Guinea. "As a result of action taken by authorities in South America, many of the cartels are now using the Gulf of Guinea as an attractive transit point to the Americas. "So, increasingly, we are finding that drug cartels are shipping drugs not only to the Gulf of Guinea but also other parts of Africa, " the President said, and expressed the confidence that the tracking equipment in Ghana would help check the illegal trade. President Mahama also expressed the hope that the system would boost the oil and gas industry and also check illegal fishing activities in Ghana, as well as boat accidents on the Volta Lake. He was of the firm belief that with all the security agencies in the countries benefitting from the system, security would be enhanced in the country. Institutions that will use the facility include the National Security, the Narcotics Control Board, the Eastern Naval Command, the Western Naval Command, the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority, and the Immigration Service. The rest are the Fisheries Department, the Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority, the Volta Lake Transport Company and the Ghana Maritime University. Mr Mahama urged the management of GMA to ensure proper maintenance of the equipment. Minister of Transport The Minister of Transport, Mrs Dzifa Attivor, said the involvement of key stakeholders in the project was a demonstration of the co-operation by government agencies in the security and other sectors to pool resources to find solutions to the challenges confronting the nation. She said under the agreement signed with the Finnish government, eight officers from the GMA had received training, both locally and in Finland, and eight more were undergoing training on the maintenance of the facility. GMA boss The Director-General of the GMA, Mr Peter Issaka Azuma, while welcoming the project , appealed to President Mahama to intervene in the impasse between the Ghana Shippers Authority and the Ship-owners and Agents Association of Ghana which was now before the law courts. He said the legal tussle had denied his outfit the needed revenue to undertake various activities.