Black Star Line: Still A Sleeping Giant?

Kwame-NkrumahIn the words of Professor Henry Mintzberg,a distinguished Canadian university academician, ‘Corporations doing well possess vision, proficient, innovative, concentrated energy, cooperation, which encompass internal and external factors’.

The assertion underscores the salient rudiments required to guarantee longevity coupled with efficiency within corporate organisations.

Be it as it may, the 1957 declaration of Ghana’s historic emancipation from the shackles of imperialism elicited substantial establishment of industrial infrastructure which indisputably included the port of Tema for the take-off of Ghana’s fragile economy in the colonial era.

Among many other things, Ghana’s indefatigable leader, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, in his God-given astuteness saw the need for the provision of sea-going vessels to set the stage for the institutionalization of Black Star Line (BSL), a wholly state-owned maritime corporate entity that sought to explore extensive trading activities within the West African sub-region and subsequently to the entire globalised world.

Certainly, it wasn’t for nothing that Osagyefo placed high premium on a flagship venture like BSL. His core vision and mandate was that BSL would eventually materialize as the nation’s future ‘cash cow’ for the sustenance of the Ghanaian economy in times of volatile economic depression.

Subsequently, as part of strategic ingenuity to resource BSL for efficacious operationalization and its sustainability, high density silos were constructed in the Tema industrial enclave where raw cocoa beans, as well as varied natural commodities from the vast West African community, could be scientifically warehoused for expeditious export, utilizing the national shipping line.

Conspicuously, the generation of financial injections that may accrue in the form of foreign exchange into the national kitty cannot be over-emphasized; more specifically the creation of copious employment and other ancillary job opportunities to absorb the country’s teeming professionals and seafarers.

Tragically, BSL could not stand the test of time. Poor leadership, coupled with massive pervasion of corruption, bad corporate governance, leading to unethical practices, as well as maladministration, bedeviled the once enviable shipping line.

In the 21st century, many jurisdictions geographically located on the coastal trajectory have succeeded in strategically revolutionizing their economies through optimization of maritime transport and logistics. This trend has invariably guaranteed predictability, versatility as, well as of course, profitability to these polities. A classic example is the state of Singapore.

THE SINGAPORE SUCCESS STORY
In retrospection, Singapore marine industry has seen significant growth over the last 30 years, evolving from a small regional ship repair and building centre into a world-class industry that serves international clientele.

The industry includes ship repair, shipbuilding, rig building and offshore engineering, and other marine supporting services.
Today, Singapore is one of the world’s premier ship repair and ship conversion centres, as well as a global leader in the building of jack-up rigs and the conversion of FPSO (Floating Production Storage and Offloading) units. It is also a niche player in the construction of customised and specialized vessels.

Globally renowned for its reliable and convenient range of comprehensive marine services, Singapore is a one-stop marine centre for ship owners, managers and agents around the world. Generating an annual turnover of $3 billion and employing about 30,000 workers, the marine industry plays a crucial part in Singapore’s economic growth.

This has contributed to the economic development of Singapore for the last 30 years. It will continue to play a critical role in the national economy, in view of Singapore’s drive to become a leading international maritime hub.

In summary, Singapore, a minute island with virtually no natural resources, has achieved the status of a developed country. Her success story is based on the fact that the leaders foresaw the urgent need to develop her maritime industry, in that, maritime transportation and logistics are perceived as a core component of the economy of any given sovereignty in the new millennium that seeks to be part of the emerging global market for absolute  transformation.

Today, Singapore has metamorphosed into a hub of global maritime activities and essentially the key distribution interface for volumes of global containerized merchandised predestined for major accredited seaports across the globe. This development has invariably intensified her GDP growth.

Interestingly, the Singapore experience is not an isolated allusion. Other states similarly within the Asiatic enclave have capitalized on the power of ship operationalization in consonance with best maritime practices to resuscitate their ailing economy, thereby benefitting from economies of scale.

GLOOMY SCENARIO
Now, making strong diagnostic observation of the above scenario by juxtaposing it with Ghana’s existing circumstances, it’s quite evident that this raises myriad of interrogations. As a country, what pragmatic steps are the ‘powers that be’ undertaking in respect of the elaborate Shipyard and Dry dock infrastructure which is essentially woefully under-utilized and has virtually turned into an ‘ivory tower’?

Secondly, what about the defunct BSL? Has it ultimately sloped into the abyss of history? And that of the defunct State Fishing Corporation (SFC)? Dead and forgotten? And the fate of the monumental silos? Been transmogrified into ‘Egyptian mummies’?

As sovereignty, this is extremely preposterous and objectionable. It may interest readers to acknowledge the fact that some few decades ago, Ghana was a countrywhich could boast of not less than four top 16,000 tonner vessels provided by the then government of the PNP, that embarked upon regular sailing schedules, traversing the globe.

In the late 70s, vessels like Keta, Tano, Sissili, and of course Volta, arguably epitomised the originality of  Ghanaian identity once in foreign jurisdictions, as well as the soul of the nation in those highly nostalgic times.

However, since the inception of the 4th republic, none of the various legitimate governments has attempted to resuscitate the once celebrated national shipping line through acquisition of ocean-going vessels.

A very demoralizing aspect of this issue under deliberation is the existing enormity of correlated institutions that are supposed to make timely interventions in those challenging moments of the once enviable shipping line.

State institutions like Ghana Shippers Authority (GSA), the Ghana Maritime Authority (GMA), the Ministry of Transport, and of course, the Regional Maritime University (RMU) have in the scheme of things, stood aloof in respect of non-existence of ocean vessels that the country is alarmingly deprived of.

Factually, what is more disturbing is RMU’s penchant to roll out marine engineering graduates, cadet officers and other categories of maritime professionals and skilled seafarers annually without a single vessel for practical training. Ultimately, such dexterous workforces are left in limbo after graduation, to their detriment. In the case of GSA, its high time their award-winning sprees were  translated into rationality, now that it has metamorphosed into an authority.

Ghana, undeniably, is in dire need of a new generation of ocean liners if the country is to significantly improve upon both her GDP and GNP levels; coupled with the urgent necessity to create massive job opportunities to catch up with the developed polities.

We pride ourselves for attaining the level of low-middle income status, yet there is nothing to validate this position, not a single fishing vessel.

Its time institutions like the Chattered Institute of Logistics & Transport (CILT), GSA, GMA, GPHA and interrelated Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) make conscious efforts to pool resources  by making representation to the government, through Parliament, for acquisition and operationalization of ocean liners.

Indeed, conjecturing from the above unfolding event, James C. Collins/Jerry Porras were perfectly right when they opined in their world-acclaimed masterpiece “BUILT TO LAST”, that most successful companies in the world operate according to powerful, effective and efficient principles that are replicable by any ambitious company that will take the time to appreciate, understand and apply them rigorously and thoroughly.

The aforementioned is, irrefutably, rational underlying principle that guarantees success to corporate entities when critically adhered to. Going beyond this submission could spell unanticipated doom for an organization. –  Joe Effah-Nkyi

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