Over the last week the Ghanaian Chief Justice, Georgina Theodora Wood, has used the 7th Maritime Law Conference to raise concerns about the country's readiness to forestall piracy off its maritime waters. The conference was attended by all judges of the superior courts of Ghana.
Recent pirate activity on the West African coast, close to Ghana's waters, have raised fears that the humanitarian and economic effects of a spread could be highly damaging, particularly since the reasonably recent discovery and exploitation of oil reserves.
Her Ladyship Mrs. Justice Wood emphasised that the activity could have dire consequences and stressed the importance of the judiciary playing its expected rule of law enforcement role robustly.
With the oil find, "It should be anticipated that pirates would find the coast of Ghana a fertile ground for their activities," she said. This is corroborated by a recent 'Africa Renewal' report.
Increased fears of piracy will result in the inflation of insurance premiums for commercial vessels, the diversion of certain routes and the consequent denial of the benefits of exportation to certain areas.
Wood called upon the judges to broaden their knowledge on maritime, insurance and piracy law, in order to meet the expectations of the people and retain the trust of commercial entities based or functioning in Ghana. It is vital for the Ghanaian economy that civil matters such as insurance claims following piracy can be predictably and methodically litigated.
She further suggested that criminal laws against disrupting the security of maritime navigation should be toughened, and that cooperation with other countries in the region was vital to avoid economic problems.
Wood summarised by declaring that 'As judges, our noble calling and our work has far reaching implications for citizens of Ghana and non-citizens alike.'
While it remains to be seen what will be done, it is important to recognise that the role of the judiciary in limiting damage caused by piracy is almost as important as the role played by those physically fighting it. From the government's point of view, the most significant damage caused by the pirates is to investor trust and economic confidence. It is Wood's opinion that the judges could prevent much of that damage.
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