The World Maritime Day 2010 is being celebrated by the International Maritime Organization at it’s headquarters in London on Thursday 23 Sep 2010. Individual governments have been offered the flexibility to celebrate it anytime during the last full week of September ie during 20 to 24 of the month. A parallel event, officially sanctioned by the IMO Council, is scheduled on 7 and 8 Oct 2010 at Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Interestingly, the Day was first observed on 17 March 1978 to mark the date of the entry into force of the IMO Convention two decades earlier. The Organization had previously been functioning as the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organization (IMCO) since 1948.
Lest anyone question the authority of the IMO to impose the World Maritime Day on unsuspecting governments, let me hasten to add that the IMO is a specialized agency of the UN, with 169 member states and 3 associate members. Apart from establishing the World Maritime University in Malmo, Sweden, in 1983, the IMO has been the source of around 60 legal instruments that guide the regulatory development of it’s member states to improve safety at sea, facilitate trade among seafaring states and protect the maritime environment. The most well known are the Maritime Pollution Regulations (MARPOL 73/78), Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS 74) and Standards for Training, Certification & Watch-keeping (STCW 95). It has also encouraged the adoption, in 2006, of the International Labour Organization’s consolidated Maritime Labour Convention, which addresses the vital social issue of the seafarer’s working conditions.
Insofar as Pakistan is concerned, the importance of the day should not be underestimated. It furnishes an ideal opportunity to generate awareness of the maritime domain, which currently happens to be sadly lacking, and to draw attention to what the maritime realm has to offer. If pressed on the issue of the depth of the maritime potential, even the educated strata would be hard-pressed to go beyond just two: ports and shipping. The fact is that for those in whom the realization has sunk in, there is a whole new world out there.
The importance of the maritime sector can be gauged from the following statistics which speak for themselves:
- The oceans, having an average depth of 3.7 km cover 71% of the earth’s surface.
- More than half the world’s population lives near the sea.
- Population density near the sea is 10 times greater than the inland regions.
- Some 95% of world trade by volume is carried out via the sea.
The first step towards realizing our maritime potential is to be aware of it. The second calls upon the government to generate an investor-friendly conducive environment that serves as a solid foundation to build upon. This entails good governance, that facilitates rather than hampers, those who are keen to make inroads into the maritime sector in particular.
In practical terms, we should, first and foremost, treasure what we have already got and then keep striving for improvement. Even if we possess a dozen odd ships, the trick lies in ensuring that they are gainfully employed and that all new acquisitions turn into profitable ventures. Even if we have three odd ports, their commercial utilization should be beyond question and that all new expansion schemes should keep market forces in mind. It is criminal to keep our most vital port, that of Karachi, devoid of a number of berths for over two decades, simply because we can’t devote ample time, effort and funding towards their rehabilitation. Port Qasim, likewise, continues to suffer from problems like excessive siltation and lack of night navigation facilities, which impacts upon its operations and profitability. Of Gwadar Port, much touted as the gateway to Central Asia, the least said the better. The only traffic going there is the one forced to do so, despite the govt entailing losses in the bargain. Our planners need to realize that a port by itself is meaningless, unless it has the requisite cargo handling / storage infrastructure along with hinterland access.
Particularly if we have a thriving ports, shipping & commerce industry, ship repairing and even ship-building can be a profitable enterprise. A minor tragedy for us is that our only ship-building yard ie KSEW Ltd amongst other things, is located in a stretch of the channel which can’t handle most of the ships that traverse the world’s oceans, owing to depth constraints. It is primarily surviving on the non-competitive orders it lands from the Pakistan Navy. A modern shipyard that is capable of building and repairing relatively larger ships in a competitive and professional manner would certainly be a profitable concern.
Fishing is another area where a huge potential exists, waiting to be tapped, if conducted in a sustainable manner. The problem with Pakistani fisheries is that it is being handled in an unruly manner, with the authorities seemingly powerless to curb harmful practises like the use of fine mesh fishing nets which maximizes waste. Selective and environmentally safe fishing gear and practises helps in maintaining biodiversity, conserves aquatic ecosystems, protects fish quality and results in sustainable fisheries. If a country like Viet Nam can generate revenues of over 3 billion dollars through fish exports, there is no reason why we can’t replicate it’s example.
We watch helplessly as our mangroves, which are natural fish hatchery habitats, are being systematically destroyed through seawater ingress and the pervasive culture of land-grabbing, which has also disturbed the delicate ecosystem of the Indus delta.
Marine pollution is likewise playing havoc all along our coast. A lot of people would be surprised to learn that most of the pollution affecting the marine environment comes from land-based sources: farming nutrients, urban waste, industrial effluents, pesticides, hydrocarbons, chemicals and effluent discharges from oil refineries. This needs to be curbed if marine biodiversity is to be conserved and coastal tourism promoted.
This brings us to another profitable maritime enterprise. The term ‘coastal tourism and recreation’ embraces the full range of tourism, leisure and recreationally-oriented activities that take place in the coastal zone and the offshore coastal waters. Along with eco-tourism, this is the most thriving form of tourism. For such types of tourism to flourish in Pakistan, it is important to adopt an integrated coastal zone planning and regulatory approach, which addresses environmental concerns and encourages biodiversity conservation.
A maritime success story for Pakistan is the ship-recycling industry based at Gadani. This industry generated 852,002 tons of steel and metal scraps through the dismantling of around 107 various-sized ships during the past year. This industry has great potential, particularly if basic amenities like access roads, electricity, drinking water, office / housing units, schooling and medical facilities are made available. Issues relating to health concerns of the workers dealing with hazardous substances should also be addressed on priority.
Once a sort of maritime culture takes hold in Pakistan, scientific research in the fields of biotechnology, marine renewable energy, exploitation of methane hydrates and usable mineral deposits, data collection in respect of fisheries / ecosystem etc would automatically be encouraged. Along with research, the much-needed maritime disciplines of naval architecture & ship-building, marine engineering, nautical services, maritime law, oceanography, climate change, dredging, port & maritime management etc would also get a substantial boost. This would in turn translate into innumerous job opportunities as well as a thriving economy. As I mentioned earlier on in the article, there is a whole new world out there, if we only could but see and appreciate.
Coming back to the international significance of the World Maritime Day, the occasion is also used to high-light a particular aspect of IMOs work. The theme this year revolves around the seafarer, a ubiquitous though largely-ignored commodity, whose services to the cause of world trade is immeasurable.
In recognition of the unique contribution made by seafarers to international seaborne trade, the world economy and civil society as a whole, it was decided on the sidelines of the recently-held conference at Manila (which was deliberating upon major revisions to the STCW Convention) that henceforth 25 June (the day the conference was conducted) would be celebrated each year as the ‘Day of the Seafarer’.
The major issues that the average seafarer has to deal with are peculiar to the trade and need to be better appreciated. The introduction of containerized traffic, offshore oil terminals and faster turn-around times now ensure that the limited period of recreation and relaxation available earlier during port calls are drastically curtailed. A greater level of automation on board ships have now made large ocean-going ships a very lonely place owing to crew reduction. Danger also lurks in many hot-spots of the world in the form of pirates. Let us not forget Capt Jafar Jaffri, a seasoned master mariner, who was mercilessly cut down by the pirates in June this year while performing his duties as the Captain of the MV QSM Dubai. Seafarers also feel abandoned by their ship-owners after the ship gets into some sort of a scrape.
Let us also commemorate this year as the year of the seafarer and 25 June every year thereafter as the day of the seafarer, as a token of appreciation for the services our brethren at sea keep rendering silently for the benefit of the country.
The World Maritime Day should also be celebrated by us with gusto, firstly to generate greater awareness of the maritime domain and secondly, to further the cause of maritime activities that can provide a sizeable boon to our economic and social scene.
Note: This was published in the daily newspaper ‘The Nation’ in it’s issue of 24 September 2010.