Boards of KPT and PQA yet to have full quorum, only one of 12 sanctioned posts at DGPS and MMD filled
Pakistan, which relies on its 1100 kilometres vast coastline to cater the country’s 90 percent seaborne trade, is likely to see itself in hot waters at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) sooner than later, warned the shipping experts.
The PML-N-ruled country, though seeing its troubled economic indicators coming back on track one after another, has its ports and shipping sector completely neglected by the sitting rulers whose apparent lack of interest and alleged politicisation of bureaucracy has brought the revenue-generating industry to the brink of a total collapse.
Almost all of the ministry of ports and shipping-controlled federal agencies, prominently Karachi Port Trust (KPT), Port Qasim Authority (PQA), Gwadar Port Authority (GPA), Directorate General Ports and Shipping (DGPS) and Marine Mercantile Department (MMD), are facing a serious operational crisis the “compound effect” of which, if not addressed, the experts believe, would render Pakistan eliminated from the IMO’s “White List”.
With KPT and PQA having been worked for months with their boards of directors dissolved, the all-important DGPS and MMD are being run single-handedly by a nautical surveyor, Captain Qasim Saeed, for over a couple of months past.
Of the total 12 sanctioned posts at the two departments, according to official sources, 11 are vacant. The lone official appears to be officiating in place of a chief nautical surveyor, a principal officer, a deputy chief nautical surveyor, two nautical surveyors, a chief examiner and ship surveyor and five engineers and ship surveyors at the DGPS and MMD.
The technical staff on the above vacant posts are responsible for conducting flag and port state inspections, overseeing shipbuilding, surveying thousands of crafts and fishing boats operating in Pakistani waters and most of all examining and certification of local seafarers under standards of training, certification and watch-keeping of Seafarers 1978 (STCW), Merchant Shipping Ordinance 2001 and other IMO conventions.
This was strict compliance with such IMO standards that put Pakistan on the Organisation’s 71-member “White List”. The official sources, however, said in the absence of technical staff at DGPS and MMD the country was falling short of fulfilling the above requirements.
For the last three months at least, they said, the MMD has been issuing Port Clearance (PC) to hundreds of vessels calling at local ports with the stroke of a pen without physically inspecting sea-worthiness of the ships. “On average 15 to 20 ships call at local ports daily,” said a shipping agent.
“A PC issued by MMD makes Pakistan solely responsible for any damage caused to the ship concerned before it reaches the next port of call,” a former official of MMD told Pakistan Today.
A former DG ports said PNSC was saving at least $45 million per year for dollar-hungry Pakistan on account of shipping freight by transporting $16 billion worth of imported non-edible oil. “It is obligatory on the government of Pakistan to fulfil its (IMO) obligations otherwise the Pakistan flagged vessels and seafarers may suffer at foreign ports,” warned a KPT board member.
He said the IMO did not allow substandard ships and seafarers as it undermines its policy of “safer shipping and cleaner oceans”. Pakistani seafarers may lose their jobs in the international market, the expert added. According to MMD figures, there are 25,000 registered merchant mariners or seafarers who would be adversely affected by any such mishap.
Moreover, at least 44 Class IV engineering examination candidates are still said to be awaiting orals owing to the chief examiner’s contract expiry on Jan 19 (2014) at the MMD. “No examiner is available for the first time in the history of CoC (Certificate of Competencies) examination since its inception,” lamented a source.
Why the vacant posts were not filled on time?
The official sources at MMD said a “huge gap” between the government salary structure and the wages aboard international shipping lines was a major reason for the failure of Federal Public Service Commission to appoint competent officials on the vacant posts.
However, a former PQA board member claimed that like its predecessors the present PML-N government too wanted to install its own blue-eyed boys at all the key posts in the ministry of ports and shipping, previously governed by Senator Babar Ghauri of MQM for two consecutive terms during Musharraf era.
“Every government wants to fill such seats through its own people that is something is fact this government does not have,” claimed he.
When approached, Federal Minister for Ports and Shipping Senator Kamran Michael said the matter was finalised. “We have had the prime minister’s approval for the names to be appointed,” the federal minister said. “We are doing the refilling,” he told Pakistan Today at a recent dinner he recently hosted for journalists at Port House.