The Kenyan Permanent Secretary for Shipping and Maritime Affairs Nancy Karigithu spoke with Fred Oluoch about use of marine resources in the region.
East African countries have no choice but to join the new trend because 90 per cent of international trade in the region happens through shipping and particularly through the ports of Mombasa and Dar es Salaam.
The maritime industry is an all-inclusive sector because it is the different sectors of the Blue Economy that develop our national economies.
The efficiency of international trade affects the gross domestic product of the region and is at the heart of the socio-economic fabric.
So, what is the current picture of the Blue Economy in the region in terms of resource potential and infrastructure for its exploitation and security?
We are blessed with an abundance of water bodies whose potential have not been optimised.
We still had to improve the infrastructure in marine transport and fishing, and logistics because there are areas that have the potential of creating thousands of jobs for the youth who are the majority of the population .
The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, not make a distinction between sea-facing and landlocked countries, and East Africa must adopt a Blue Economy mindset that will make us optimally use of all the water bodies that include the ocean, lakes, navigable rivers and even dams.
Despite being on the eastern seaboard and having lakes and rivers, maritime transport is almost non-existent, with a few derelict vessels that are prone to accidents. What can be done to ensure safety of the marine transport, especially on Lake Victoria?
Marine security and safety are at the heart of a Blue Economy.
We cannot talk about a Blue Economy until we put the structures in place to ensure that our maritime transport is safe for passengers and for the conservation of the marine environment.
We are talking about putting institutional marine structures in place that will make sure that before vessels go out into the waters, there is enough capacity on land to inspect them, ensure that the people manning these vessels are trained to international standards and that there is capacity for a quick rescue in case of an accident.
This will take enormous resources and that is why we are inviting the participation of the private sector.
How are countries in East Africa dealing with pollution in water bodies from plastic bags, oil spills, agricultural and industrial affluent?
If you recall, one of the big components of this conference was that top cities have to incorporate policies and structures and to be able to manage affluent and waste that are going into the oceans.
In Kenya, we have been working closely with county governors to reduce the amount of affluent that goes into water bodies in their counties.
For shared international waters, we have international conventions that are geared towards ensuring that waste does not go into the oceans and seas whether it is plastic or oil spills in case of shipping accidents.
Should oil spills occur due to accidents, we should be in a position to clean up as fast as possible. Oil spill contingency plans are at national, regional and international levels, where countries can call for external help when in need.
Kenya is developing the Integrated National Marine Policy. How can it be regionalised given that it touches on shared marine resources?
Whatever we are doing in Kenya in terms of policy is informed by existing practices at regional and continental level.
This is where the African Union comes into play because it is well articulated at the continental level.
If you look at the African Integrated Maritime Strategy, African Maritime Transport Charter, Agenda 2063, all are looking towards encouraging African states to have a Blue Economy mindset -- come up with shipping lines, strategies that address maritime safety, security and all other aspects.
We want to develop as one region because it is the only way we can benefit. For example, the Africa Continental Free Trade Area cannot work unless we leverage on the Blue Economy and improve the maritime sector.
If not, we will continue looking West and East for trading partners while our maritime sector continues to be controlled by foreign shipping companies.
The trick is to develop our maritime strategies so that we can trade more with one another and reduce foreign exchange outflows.
Women are poorly represented in the marine sector on the continent. What can be done to ensure that they are part and parcel of a beneficial value chain and not just recipients of final products?
Women only represent two per cent of the global maritime workforce, where they occupy the lowest and least profitable tier.
Because of its history, the maritime sector has not invested in women, let alone involving them in the decision making process.
But these are some of the issues that we are looking at, and if you are talking about sustainability and the UN Sustainable Development goals, you cannot ignore gender parity.
The international maritime community is cognisant of that and now issues that had been dismissed by men as being simple, such as the provision of sanitary arraignments aboard ships and separate sleeping arrangements are being addressed.
But once the new law, the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 -- is fully implemented, it will force ship owners to provide an environment that will encourage young women to pursue maritime professions and protect them from sexual harassment and violence aboard ships.