SOMETHING is not making sense. The interception of another Zambian registered ship on the Mediterranean Sea on suspicion that it is carrying illegal arms, is something that should send shivers in every security conscious Zambian citizen. The timing of this development is just wrong, and what is even more scary is that the government claims that it has no business on the high seas and does not know what these vessels and the people operating them are up to.

The people of Zambia are free to believe what they want to believe. As for us, we have chosen to believe the truth, and the truth is that it is impossible for anyone to register a ship in any country and even have the audacity of flying that country’s flag without the government being involved. Denying any knowledge of these vessels and any involvement in the illegal consignments being transported may have been the easiest thing to do. But at the same time, this may be the most dangerous thing to say. Sooner or later, facts will be laid bare and the whole country will see the connivance that was taking place, and those people involved will not be expected to claim that they were acting on behalf of the government.

And this brings us to the explanation from State House. According to the President’s spokesperson, when a ship is flying the Zambian flag, it does not mean that it belongs to the country. To quote his exact words: “It is just like when you see somebody wearing a Zambian jersey in Egypt, you cannot come to us and say ‘you tell us how that boy got a Zambian jersey. Even here in Zambia, we have seen people carrying British flags, American flags so you cannot ask the American government where that Zambian got the flag, you can’t. So whoever was carrying the Zambian flag, we don’t know the context, the circumstance.”

The incumbent Press Aid is a very nice man who, unfortunately, happens to have one of the most horrible jobs in government. We can only imagine that sometimes he has to defend things that he doesn’t fully understand. So we can excuse him, but in the interest of curtailing misinformation, we have to inform the people of Zambia that what he was saying about the registration of vessels is false and cannot be backed by any maritime regulation.

First of all, according to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), the general mechanism for establishing a ship’s nationality is registration of the ship in a particular State. By linking a ship to a State, the system of ship registration indicates that that State has the right to protect that ship in international law. In other words, as long as those vessels carrying suspected illegal arms are registered in Zambia, our government has the duty to protect them on international waters.

What this means is that the IMO and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea expects that Zambia adequately assumes jurisdiction and control over shipowners and ships that are flying its flags. To simply say “we don’t have any business on the high seas and we don’t own the intercepted vessels,” is not good enough. It’s either the government is lying or our country has been infiltrated by arms dealers, mafias.

The IMO framework for shipping regulation dictates that every State shall fix its own conditions for the grant of its nationality to ships, for the registration of ships in its territory, and for the right to fly its flag (article 91 of United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Further, article 94 of UNCLOS demands that the State must effectively exercise its jurisdiction and control in administrative, technical and social matters over ships flying its flag. Article 91(1) of UNCLOS provides that “there must exist a genuine link between the State and the ship.” The purpose of the “genuine link” requirement in UNCLOS is to secure more effective implementation of the duties of the flag State.

As we can see from the international regulations on ship registration, the State House example of a replica jersey falls far short of reasonable. These are two different vessels which have been intercepted in a space of about a month. It cannot be a coincidence that they were both using the same route and they are both suspected of carrying the same articles. Someone in Zambia facilitated the registration of these vessels and they know what is going on. The people at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who are communicating with the public on this matter may not know or they may be too scared to say the truth, but their expression of ignorance cannot hold water.

What we also find interesting is that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told the European Union Naval Force that the first vessel was being operated by some Russian nationals, and they went ahead to name all their names and ranks. Where did they get this information if they don’t know anything about these vessels? Lies have short legs!