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Fisheries sector transformation saves Ghana’s Oil and Gas industry

Ground-breaking reforms and innovations introduced through the West Africa Regional Fisheries Program (WARFP) continue to protect not only the fisheries, but other sectors.

On Saturday, 23 September 2017, Justice Boualem Bouguetaia, President of the Special Chamber of the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), delivered a judgement in the dispute concerning delimitation of the maritime boundary between Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire.

The verdict was as follows:

  “That the single maritime boundary for the territorial sea, the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf within and beyond 200 nm starts at BP 55+ with the coordinates 05° 05’ 23.2” N, 03° 06’ 21.2’’ W in WGS 84 as a geodetic datum

– That Ghana did not violate the sovereign rights of Côte d’Ivoire.

– That Ghana did not violate the provisional measures prescribed by the Special Chamber in its Order of 25 April 2015.”

Since the judgement, Ghanaians across the length and breadth of the country and the diaspora have been basking in the ‘elegant victory’. The discussions however have centered on how the victory has saved our new oil and gas exploitation in the disputed area from economic losses and paved the way for further expansion.

The critical success factor

In recognizing the regulator of the longest-operating maritime industry, the Ghanaian Legal and Technical Team consulted the MCS Division of the Fisheries Commission for the necessary assistance. Following these consultations, the Attorney General’s Department invited the Fisheries Commission for a meeting on 24th June 2015.

At the meeting which had the Attorney General presiding, the Ghanaian Legal and Technical Team of the Maritime Boundary Arbitration between Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire sought urgently (before a deadline of 4 September 2015) “copies of all items of correspondence, maps and any/or other documentation relating to the Ghana-Cote d’Ivoire relations in the area of fisheries. These materials are intended to demonstrate to the Tribunal that Cote d’Ivoire has recognized the current boundary since Independence.”

The Commission was represented by Mr. Godfrey Baidoo-Tsibu (Head of Monitoring, Control and Surveillance Division), Mr. Paul Bannerman (Head of Fisheries Scientific and Survey Division), and Capt. (GN) Emmanuel Kwafo (former National Coordinator of Fisheries Enforcement Unit).

After struggling to glean enough information on archived hard documents, the Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) of the Fisheries Commission became the ‘guardian angel’. The VMS which had been in place and currently funded by the West African Regional Fisheries Project (WARFP), is a satellite-based fisheries surveillance mechanism which provides accurate and timely information about the location and activity of regulated fishing vessels.

Unlike other monitoring methods such as the use of surface and aerial patrols, on-board observers, logbooks or dockside inspections, this system sends reports from vessels to a satellite and then onto a terrestrial, or “earth” station.

VMS chart

The earth station validates and stores the data, and makes them available to the monitoring agency. The fishery monitoring centres in Accra, Tema and Takoradi retrieve the data and store them in a database. The identity and location of VMS units are presented on a map display, comparing vessel positions with features of interest, such as regulated fishing areas within Ghana’s EEZ and beyond.

Several VMS reports on fishing vessel movement and activities in the disputed area were made available to the team in both hard and soft copies. In February 2017, the Ghanaian Legal and Technical team, requested remote access to the VMS whilst they were in Hamburg, Germany and this was granted by the Fisheries Commission.

Following this, the team was informed that Cote d’Ivoire Fisheries Authority was operating a Vessel Monitoring System powered by the same vendor (CLS, France) as Ghana’s and for that matter were using the same electronic admiralty charts.

There was evidence to show how both countries have cooperated and exchanged information on vessels leaving or entering the territorial waters of either country.

The MCS Division got CLS, France to confirm this to the Ghanaian Legal and Technical Team in Hamburg, Germany.

Objection to the boundary that has over the years being the reference point as per the VMS charts in the exchange of information on fishing vessels leaving or entering the territorial waters of either countries was considered duplicitous on the part of Cote d’Ivoire. This significantly weakened the Ivorian case and validated Ghana’s position.

This helped the Ghanaian Legal and Technical Team in demonstrating to the International Tribunal of the Law of the Seas (ITLOS) that Ghana had not violated the sovereign rights of Cote d’Ivoire.

It is hoped that beyond the ITLOS victory, the Vessel Monitoring System, as a key component in Monitoring, Control and Surveillance operations of the Fisheries Commission will continue to receive Governmental support. It also needs to be highlighted that interagency cooperation and coordination should be enhanced in dealing always with matters of National concern as was evidenced in the ITLOS victory.

By Godfrey Baidoo-Tsibu of the Fisheries Commission and Bright Yeboah, WARFP-Ghana

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