INTERVIEW: Improving safety at sea

Karima Abdel-Ghani, Saturday 21 Aug 2021

President of the Egyptian Authority for Maritime Safety Hussein Al-Gezeiri explains moves to improve the authority’s services in an interview with Karima Abdel-Ghani

Improving safety at sea
Hussein Al-Gezeiri

The Egyptian Authority for Maritime Safety (EAMS) reported revenues of LE1.475 billion this year, becoming one of the state’s leading revenue-making authorities together with the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) and the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation (EGPC).

The statement was made by Hussein Al-Gezeiri, head of the EAMS, who said the figure had come despite a 35 per cent drop in global cargo due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. He said Egypt had decided to reduce toll fees at Egyptian ports by 10 per cent to encourage global maritime companies to navigate through Egypt’s waters, and that this had contributed to the increase in revenues.

The EAMS dates back to 1830 when an authority was set up to supervise the docking of large vessels in the port of Alexandria under the name of the Egyptian Ports and Lighthouses Administration.

Today, the EAMS is a state agency affiliated to the ministry of transportation. Egypt has been focusing on this sector, seeing it as a pillar for reviving the economy through a host of large-scale national projects.

The EAMS regulates navigation and attracts maritime companies to Egypt while ensuring that all appropriate safety regulations are observed. Maritime safety and crew training are two of its main responsibilities, and it also represents Egypt in various international maritime organisations, Al-Gezeiri told Al-Ahram Weekly.

It provides various services for seafarers, including licences and certificates for sailors and captains, the registration of ships, technical assistance for navigation, and monitoring and inspecting ships.

The EAMS licenses sailors and marine engineers, as well as fishermen, Mustafa Abdel-Kader of the EAMS Examination Department, explained. Professional licences are issued after those applying complete course at the Arab Academy for Science, Technology, and Maritime Transport and undergo appropriate medical examinations.

Abdel-Kader said that recent upgrades at the authority had led to reductions in waiting times and increased the flexibility and speed with which services are provided to Egyptians and others. Every four months EAMS missions are dispatched to Arab countries such as Syria, Jordan, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates to issue licences for workers in the maritime trade who may not be able to travel to the authority’s headquarters in Alexandria to finalise their papers.

Other upgrades had led to improvements in maritime beacons at Nelson, Alam Al-Roum, Barrani, and Salloum in the Mediterranean. The beacons are marine buoys made of copper, silicon, and manganese alloys and are used to increase navigational safety, Abdel-Kader said.

EAMS buildings had been upgraded to accommodate the new information technology network, he said.

The Abu-Kizan and Ras Shaqiq lighthouses in Alexandria have been upgraded, and two tugboats the Al-Safa and Al-Marwa that operate search and rescue missions and inspections of Sharm El-Sheikh, Port Said, and Hurghada, have also been refurbished.

The Shaker Island lighthouse, one of the most important in the Red Sea, has been refurbished, in addition to the Al-Ashrafi and Al-Akhwain lighthouses.

The development work has included installing seven flexible marine beacons in the Gulf of Suez to ensure the safety and security of navigation in the area, as well as the development of navigational aids in the Gulf of Suez and the Red Sea. New fire control systems have been installed in warehouses and buildings allocated for maritime inspections, Al-Gezeiri said.

All this has raised the quality of services provided by the EAMS, especially those pertaining to vessel movements, search and rescue systems, navigational aids, and service stations. Work flow had been improved, speeding up the registration of Egyptian and foreign vessels, the issuing of licences for vessel inspection, and the obtaining and renewal of marine passports and maritime certificates, he added.

Other upgrades include interactive electronic services to receive and investigate complaints submitted by or against seafarers, as well as the collection of fees electronically through point-of-sale machines that accept Egyptian pounds as well as other currencies.

The EAMS has consolidated billing with the SCA, and captains, officers and engineers can inquire about the validity of eligibility certificates, ship licences, medical examinations, and other documents through a dedicated website.

The EAMS is issuing new digital marine passports that include all the data of the passport holder. These are more difficult to damage or falsify, Al-Gezeiri said, and are recognised the world over.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic and social-distancing measures, vessels and companies can also apply for remote inspections to gain certificates and ensure their continued validity. The validity of certificates has in some cases been extended for three months in accordance with international agreements to ensure social distancing.

The EAMS has branches in Port Said, Arish, Damietta, Hurghada, Safaga, Tor, Sharm El-Sheikh, and Nuweiba, in addition to offices to collect revenues at maritime inspection branches that collect invoices and fees for ship docking and accommodation in accordance with Law 24/1983.

Egypt is signatory to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Maritime Labour Convention of 2006, and the EAMS is bringing national legislation into line with it, Al-Gezeiri said. It was looking at ways in which the convention could benefit Egypt’s maritime industry, protect the rights of seafarers, open new labour markets for Egyptians on foreign ships, and speed up procedures affecting the mutual recognition of certificates issued to Egyptian sailors abroad.

Violations monitored by the EAMS during the inspection of ships are those identified by international agreements, especially with regard to navigation, distress procedures, machinery, and safety, he said. They are dealt with in accordance with international treaties, and ships in violation of the rules can be impounded under the 1997 Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control in the Mediterranean Region, to which Egypt is signatory.

In cases where an Egypt-flagged vessel is impounded abroad, the Maritime Accidents Investigation Department of the EAMS determines the legal responsibility of the crew and holds any violators accountable, Al-Gezeiri said.

Foreign ships in violation of maritime codes are impounded until they meet international regulations or are issued a warning. They can be held at the next port if they do not correct violations within 14 days, and their country, consulate, and supervising authorities are notified.

Maritime accidents that the EAMS investigates are those that take place in territorial waters in coordination with the concerned authorities. If an accident results in deaths, the Marine Investigations and Analysis Department and Seafarers Complaints Department of the EAMS, in coordination with the prosecution-general, investigate the accident under the latter’s supervision.

If an accident results in pollution of the marine environment, the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA) is notified, Al-Gezeiri stated.

He added that the EAMS regulates traffic throughout the maritime transport sector and monitors vessels through an integrated technical control and inspection process. It repairs navigational aids such as beacons and buoys to improve maritime safety, operates lighthouses, and trains operating crews at technical and administrative maritime institutes.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 19 August, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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