Maritime security & life at sea
Pakistan has a large fishing community. We have nearly 15 thousand fishing boats, many of which are not registered. They do not even carry the bare minimum lifesaving equipment. They do not always possess radio or other communication means to contact shore authorities in case of an emergency. Like many other occupations in Pakistan our fishermen continue to earn their living in hazardous conditions. In the aftermath of this accident, Karachi Fish Harbour Authority (KFHA) has announced that it would study measures to ensure fishing boats are not over-crowded and adhere to minimum safety requirements. The federal and provincial authorities must assist KFHA in achieving this laudable aim.
Pakistan also faces spectre of an unimaginable maritime disaster when dhows carry illegal immigrant back to Pakistan from Oman. Several times in a year, the authorities in Oman pack more than 500 deportees like sardines in a small dhow and send them back to Pakistan. What to talk of lifesaving equipment, even the living conditions on board these boats are appalling. The last such instance occurred in August this year. If such an overcrowded boat met an accident at sea, the loss of life will be of horrendous proportions.
Thus, the theme of WMD 2012 is very relevant to Pakistan. Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (MSA) is responsible for search and rescue (SAR) at sea. We do hear that MSA frequently saves many lives at sea; more than 60 this year so far. Nevertheless, the situation requires greater compliance with SOLAS convention by all, especially by those who go out to sea and the authorities responsible for safety and SAR at sea.
Safety of life is only one of the important maritime issues facing Pakistan. The pollution inside and near our ports is horrible. In spite of many committees, conferences, seminars, fact finding missions, the situation is becoming worse over time. The industrial and human waste flows freely into our port channels. The stench on our sea shore occasionally snatches all sense of enjoyment from a relaxing picnic or a pleasant boat ride. On the other hand, the surreptitious oil pollution by merchant men visiting our water goes on unchecked. The ship breaking industry at Gadani also throws all waste and oil into sea. We have no means to catch the offenders and impose the laid down penalties on them.
The sea pollution has already caused rapid deterioration of our mangroves and fisheries. The damage caused by TASMAN SPIRIT is still fresh in our memory. The suit for liability and damages continues in courts and is far from settlement. The long term damage to our marine environment cannot even be fully assessed. Pakistan is a maritime nation. Our economy and daily life depends on sea, marine environment and maritime transport. Every year maritime nations in the World celebrate WMD. In Pakistan, the day passes without any notice. World Maritime Day is an occasion when we must remember the blessing of bounties of the sea.
We should celebrate that Allah has bestowed us with direct access to sea through our long coastline. We have a large number of industrious Pakistanis who earn their living through fisheries, sea trade and merchant marine. We need to improve all aspects of our maritime endeavours, play a proactive role in international maritime arena and earn economic benefits. We should celebrate World Maritime Day each year and take careful stock of the maritime issues facing Pakistan. This year’s World Maritime Day reminds us to improve Safety of Life at Sea. Let us resolve that in the next one year we will address the deficiencies in SOLAS in Pakistan with zeal and vigour.
—The writer, a retired Vice Admiral, is DG National Centre for Maritime Policy Research.