January 8, 2015 By Patrick Hassan-Morlai, London
While the people of Sierra Leone are preoccupied with efforts to get rid of the deadly Ebola virus, elsewhere in the world, the actions or inactions of the Government of Sierra Leone are producing unwelcomed news. News about an abandoned ship loaded with 450 economic migrants from Syria that arrived in Italy’s port of Corigliano Calabro filled the airwaves, web pages and television channels in Europe and beyond last weekend (Saturday, January 3).
The Ezadeen is described as a livestock cargo ship. According to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) based in London in its report (International Shipping Facts and Figures – Information Resources on Trade, Safety, Security, Environment, 6 March 2012), the world‘s cargo carrying fleet in 2011 was 55,138 ships with an average age of 19 years and are registered to 150 nations. The Ezadeen is said to be 50 years old and registered to a Lebanese company, according to the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Sierra Leone is one of those 150 nations and operates its own international ship register.
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The Ezadeen ship is reported to have been registered under the Sierra Leone Flag which is administered by the Sierra Leone International Ship and Corporate Register (SLISCR). The IMO expects flag states (in this case Sierra Leone) to provide the first line of defence against stub-standard vessels. It is not clear when issuing its Initial or Provisional or Permanent Registration certificate to the Ezadeen under the Sierra Leone Flag whether SLISCR satisfied itself that this was a genuine business vessel with the requisite standards of safety.
With the event on Saturday January 3, one doubts very much whether the owners of the Ezadeen (or SLISCR) felt it was safe to cram 450 people in a livestock cargo vessel and set it to sail without a crew. It is quite unfortunate that neither the Government of Sierra Leone nor its appointed administrator, SLISCR, has issued a statement to address the Ezadeen story. This leaves concerned Sierra Leoneans like the author of this article and potential maritime investors to ask legitimate questions such as whether Sierra Leone has an efficient or safe flag state registration system that is not exposed to abuse by people smugglers and other rogue businesses.
The silence on the part of the Government of Sierra Leone or SLISCR to comment on the Ezadeen story is very worrying. Not least because people traffickers like those who successfully bought or owned that ship and registered it under the Sierra Leone Flag may form the view that ours is a soft touch, a cheap or even a low standard ship registration system that could be used or misused to further their nefarious activities. If the Government of Sierra Leone or SLISCR does not take steps to nip this ugly development in the bud, we may be taken for granted and others will soon take advantage of our lax ship registration system.
As Sierra Leone is making efforts to attract foreign direct investments, this is the last ugly development we would want to be associated with Sierra Leone. The Ebola situation in Sierra Leone is currently not helping businesses and investments to thrive in that country. However, our ship registration system which is based overseas should at least be operated to a high and safe standard to ensure that those who want to register their vessels under the Sierra Leone Flag will have nothing to worry about. The irony however is that SLISCR claims that it aims to maintain a registry of highest quality and ensure an efficient vessels monitoring system (http://www.sierraleoneregistry.com/en/home).
With the Ezadeen story, our ship registration system appears to be anything but a high quality and efficient system. Sierra Leoneans therefore deserve some explanation from SLISCR or the Government of Sierra Leone about the Ezadeen story and to reassure potential investors that our ship registration system is safe and efficient.
If SLISCR is not up to the job, then the Government of Sierra Leone should ensure that it puts in charge an organisation that is capable of running a safe and efficient ship registration and inspection system. Such organisation should also positively promote Sierra Leone as a country safe to do business. Our ship registration system should also earn us good returns as well as maintain a good reputation for our ship registry.