The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) on Monday lamented the non-conformity of many African countries to laid down maritime conventions leading to a number of waterway disasters.
Mr Michael Luguje, Regional Coordinator, IMO, said in many African countries, there was no body of standards, rules and regulations, procedures and practices to regulate vessels that plied their inland waterways.
"This situation has contributed to the continuing tragic loss of life, damage to property and the marine environment," he told about 50 participants at the opening of a five-day national workshop on non-convention vessels and inland waterways craft.
The workshop, organised by the Ghana Maritime Authority (GMA) with support from IMO, is to enable participants to gain insight into the IMO model safety regulations instituted since 2002.
Listing some of the incidents that caused upheaval across Africa, Mr Luguje said in March 2007, 13 people perished in a boat on the Volta Lake in Ghana, 40 died in both Tanzania and Zambia in January and November 2003 when their boats capsized, and about 1,500 people died in Senegal in October 2002 during a ferry disaster.
"In all the incidents, reported causes of the accidents involving vessels on the inland waterways include low standards of vessel construction and equipment, over loading, lack of skilled crew, ineffectiveness of the management of the vessels, lack of essential safety and communication equipment."
Mr Luguje said in recognition of the lack of effective safety regulations for vessels operating on inland waterways and at sea on non-conventional voyages, IMO under its Integrated Technical Cooperation Programme (ITCP) developed model safety regulations for inland waterway vessels and non-conventions crafts in Africa.
"However, there are many vessels which are not subject to IMO conventions either because they operate solely on domestic routes, in the inland waters, or are below convention size," he said.
The workshop, he noted, was to familiarize the participants with the concepts and principles of the model safety regulations and help them to brainstorm on how to deal with and regulate at the national level, vessels that plied on inland waters in Ghana to ensure their safety, the safety of goods and passengers.
Professor Christopher Ameyaw-Akumfi, Minister for Harbours and Railways, said the Ministry and the GMA had put in place a number of measures to tackle some of the causes of accidents on the Volta Lake culminating in an accident-free season since Easter this year.
He mentioned some of the measures as the preparation of an Inland Waterway Safety Code that was being run on radio and television and used for educational campaigns at lake stations to sensitize operators on lake transportation safety.
"The Code has recently been translated into two vernacular languages, Ewe and Twi, in order to facilitate understanding and make it more effective," he said, adding that naval taskforces had been stationed at notorious boat stations on the lake to enforce lake safety measures and to instil discipline into boat operators.
Prof. Ameyaw-Akumfi said an agreement to remove tree stumps that had caused most of the accidents, had also been signed.
"What remains to be done to make our approach holistic is to enact subsidiary legislations on inland waterways transportation and to acquire patrol boats for effective enforcement."
Mr Issachar Peter Azuma, Director-General, GMA, said the existing legislations, which were obsolete, were being revised to help administer safety on the inland waterways.
He called on the donor community to assist the Authority financially to enable it to implement its planned projects.
Participants were drawn from the GMA, Volta River Authority, Volta Lake Transport Company, National Fishermen Association of Ghana, Volta Lake Boat Owners/Operators Association, National Inland Canoe Fishermen Association and the Regional Maritime Academy, among others.