Maritime transport dates back to a thousand years before any type of civilisation. From dhows and galleons to tankers and cargo ships, the maritime industry has evolved into expansive global trade in recent times and continues to be the backbone of many economies around the world. Mauritius, with a vast maritime zone of 2.3 million square kilometres, also has an ocean economy that holds high prospects. However, despite the many opportunities for Mauritius to position itself as a maritime nation, the possible challenges cannot be overlooked.
One of the opportunities of developing Mauritius into a maritime nation is that there will be much scope for job creation in the country. Based on Continuous Multi-Purpose Household Survey (CMPHS), unemployment level in Mauritius in the fourth quarter of Year 2018 was 6.4%, which is higher than the desirable rate of 3-4%. However, in the expansion of our maritime sector, lies the opportunity to tackle our unemployment problems. At a Mauritius Maritime Training Academy event in 2015, the Minister Premdut Koonjoo stated that the ocean and ocean-related sectors are expected to generate some 25,000 jobs for Mauritians in the next five years, 20,000 of which are directly related to the maritime sector. For instance, lecturers in the maritime field, cargo handling operators, marine technicians, as well as marine biologists to study our lagoons might be required. Eventually, with these new job opportunities cropping up, more Mauritians will be employed and the countrys living standards will rise.
Secondly, Mauritius establishing itself as a maritime nation is very likely to increase Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and economic growth in the country. With the downfall of its sugarcane industry, which used to be the main pillar of the economy, it is imperative that Mauritius found an alternative source of revenue. This substitute factor is actually the services sector, in which the maritime industry is embedded. It is worthwhile to note that the Port Louis harbour holds about 99.5% of Mauritius total volume of external trade. From this, it can be deduced that harbour activities, such as; bunkering, fishing, accommodating passenger ships as well as goods in transit, can bring more revenue and foreign reserves into the island. As per an article published by Indian-Ocean Rim Association (IORA), the ocean economy of Mauritius at present contributes to around 10-11% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). With the development of this sector, its contribution to our countrys growth may increase further and Mauritius will therefore have a high repute in the world market.
Finally, another opportunity for Mauritius to position itself as a maritime nation is its strategic location at the crossroads between Asia and Africa. This is to say that Mauritius acts as an intermediary for goods in transit from Asia to Africa, or vice versa. In addition, the fact that Mauritius is a coastal country and is not landlocked, further enhances this opportunity since this allows cargo ships to be easily docked. These facilities, coupled with friendly links between Mauritius, Asia, and Africa arising from trade, will encourage traders from Asian and African countries to invest into the maritime sector of Mauritius, as the latter will be of great benefit to them. Consequently, as Mauritius gets involved with already-established maritime nations such as China, India and Africa, we may learn from their schemes and strategies such that we can improve our own maritime industry.
Moving on to the challenges, when positioning itself as a maritime nation, Mauritius might face difficulty in acquiring trained and productive manpower. There is indeed supply of labor, but that labor is not certainly skilled. The reason why skilled workers will be needed is that they have to be able to cope with disaster management. These workers should possess the know-how and expertise to deal with risk factors such as oil spillage within the petroleum hub, pirate ships in our sea territory, and natural calamities that may adversely affect our cargo village. Apart from that, the maritime sector will also require new minds, bringing about new thinking, so as to develop this department beyond our currently limited horizons. Hence, the particular target here may be the younger generations. After all, our ocean economy will only be successful with the right people at its gear.
Another challenge for Mauritius will be to attract potential investors to invest in our maritime and logistics sector. According to a statement made by the Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth in 2017, the expansion of the ocean economy including; the construction of a cruise terminal building at Port Louis harbor, a petroleum jetty at Albion, and the setting up of new dry-docking facilities at Fort William, among others, will cost a huge sum of around forty billion rupees. However, political scandals and corruption allegations on our senior politicians reflect a bad image of our country and reinforces the idea that corruption exists at the highest political levels in Mauritius. This in turn deters foreign investment. Therefore, those in charge will have to enhance the prospects of our maritime sector to such a degree that the investors may be able to look beyond the political scene and truly see the high potential of our marine sector.
Lastly, the transformation of Mauritius into a maritime nation also means that the country will face the challenge of expanding the ocean economy in sustainable way, so that there are no repercussions on the environment. In 2016, the UN General Assembly adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, among them Goal Fourteen [SDG 14], which aspires to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. Thus, if Mauritius is aiming to become a maritime nation, it has to strive towards this goal as well. Within this objective, lies other sub challenges, such as controlling over-fishing, maintaining cargo ships in such a way that they do not cause water pollution, as well as reef conservation. To break it down, there should be a balance between current aims and future needs; the maritime sector should be careful not to exploit marine resources for economic gains at the expense of our future generations. Ultimately, when it overcomes this challenge, Mauritius will really be able to develop its blue economy and at the same time advance towards Maurice Ile Durable.
In brief, establishing Mauritius as a maritime nation bears its risks, but also gives scope for growth. The maritime industry and the Mauritian government will thus have to make optimal use of these opportunities mentioned above while astutely taking on the challenges, since this is the only way to know the true capabilities of Mauritius as a nation that concentrates its resources into its the ocean economy. In the final analysis, to develop into a successful maritime nation, Mauritius will not only have to master the sea, but it is also essential that it improvises on its internal deficiencies.