The African Union (AU) has stepped up its fight against crime and pollution on the high seas by adopting a new charter to safeguard aquatic life and sea trade while stimulating growth in the maritime domain of member countries.
The charter contains stringent regulations against piracy, illegal fishing and marine pollution, which, when fully implemented, could help reduce such practices in the sea and also boost maritime activities.
It was signed and adopted in the Togolese capital of Lome, where Heads of State and representatives from 43 member countries gathered for an AU Extraordinary Summit on Maritime Security, Safety and Development.
The summit, the first of its kind, provided the General Assembly (GA) of the AU and experts in the maritime industry in the world with an opportunity to deliberate on safer ways of exploiting Africa's portion of the sea to engineer growth in what has now become known as the blue economy.
Although the charter required 12 signatories to become effective, it was overwhelmingly endorsed by 31 member countries of AU, including Ghana, at the summit.
President John Dramani Mahama, who was accompanied by the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Emmanuel Bombande,signed on behalf of Ghana.
The overwhelming endorsement of the document makes the new charter binding on all member countries who would now be required to incorporate it into their national laws to ensure its smooth and timely implementation.
The five-day summit was chaired by the Chairman of the AU, President Idriss Deby, who explained that, threats on the sea continued to constrain the full exploitation of the maritime industry on the continent; hence the need for a holistic approach towards reducing the menace.
He urged member countries not to bow to pressure from pirates and other vices committed at sea by "abandoning their sea spaces to criminals" but use internationally accepted ways to prevent them from such threats.
Mr Bombande told the Daily Graphic after the session that unlike previous charters, the Lome Charter was development-oriented such that it empathised on creating a safer sea to engineer growth in the maritime sector.
He therefore said in signing the charter, the Heads of State agreed that the special technical committees must meet to develop additional annexes that would be automatically be integrated into the charter.
Asked if that meant that the charter, in its current form, was not complete, Mr Bombande said "it is complete in the sense that our African leaders have adopted and signed it.”
As a result, he said there would be extraordinary sessions of specialised training committees to develop the less visible components that could then be integrated into the main document.
Consequently, the minister said the charter was ‘work in progress’ that would be fully complemented by July next year, after the annexes had been adopted and automatically integrated into it.