Observatory Cities and Port of the Indian Ocean… two years on
Interview : Wilfrid Bertile, Président, Observatoire Villes Ports Océan Indien, La Réunion
(13th World Conference Cities and Ports – 21/06/2012)
AIVP: From a geo-strategic point of view, what makes the Indian Ocean a specific territory today?
W. Bertile: There are more than 2 billion people living in the 50-odd countries which border the Indian Ocean. In addition to this demographic and political weight, it has a vital role as a transit route. On the northern edge of the ocean, the Gulf States produce 30% of the world’s oil. From there, two thirds of the world’s oil traffic plies west, to Africa and Europe, and east, especially to India, China and Japan. This ocean is also the route for traffic between southern Asia and eastern Europe. Each year half of the world’s container fleet and one third of all bulk carriers cross the Indian Ocean.Security throughout the ocean, and especially its access routes through the strategic straits of Bab el Mandeb (Red Sea) and Malacca (Malaysia), as well as round the Cape, is of vital importance. That is why the United States maintains bases in Bahrain for the VIIth Fleet and in Diego Garcia right in the centre of the ocean. France is present in Djibouti and in the south-west of the Indian Ocean. China depends on a string of bases in the north of the ocean to secure its oil supply, and India deploys forces there for the same reason and to contain Pakistan’s influence.
AIVP: Although it is still quite new, the observatory has already carried out several studies. If you had to pick a particularly important one, what would it be?
W. Bertile: The two main studies have reported on cruise ship facilities and the environmental practices of ports in the south-west of the Indian Ocean. The first study was done because the south-west of the Indian Ocean is an emerging region for cruise ships. The facilities offered to cruise ships need to be diversified, and reception needs to be better coordinated, but the rapid development of this activity is currently blocked by piracy from Somali. The striking thing about the second report is the disparity in the response to pollution and other nuisances in port areas, reflecting the different levels of development of the countries involved.
AIVP: Of course, the observatory also helps to associate the region’s port cities: what is the extent of the network today, and has it led to more dynamic regional cooperation?
W. Bertile: The observatory started up two years ago with three members in three different countries, Le Port (Réunion), Durban (South Africa) and Tamatave (Madagascar). Today we have fifteen members, spread over 9 countries, some of them on the African mainland (South Africa, Kenya and Mozambique), others in the islands (Madagascar, Seychelles, Réunion, Comoros and Mauritius, and the rest of the Indian Ocean (Western Australia). Partnership agreements with port associations or regional integration organisations complete the observatory’s resource centre, studies and seminars. Our association is one of the most extended non-governmental regional cooperation networks in the region and helps to create a feeling of belonging to a regional grouping.
AIVP: And what are your projects for the future?
W. Bertile: We still have to consolidate and extend the network, especially to Tanzania, Mayotte and the north-west of the Indian Ocean. We also have to see how we can incorporate AIVP members located in other parts of the Indian Ocean, and Atlantic coast African ports which are interested in our activities. And we have to inject life into our existing partnerships. An upcoming study will deal with regional supply and demand in the area of sea-going trades and professions, and an economic intelligence centre will be opened. Finally we intend to put into practice the studies which we carry out. That is the purpose of the “workbooks” which we decided to institute at our seminar in Mauritius last April. Concrete proposals have been made, such as coordination of cruise ship industry players in each port or sharing expertise in the area of environmental practices. The observatory is a pilot project by AIVP, and we hope to be followed by other regions around the world.