In Pakistan, those entrusted with national planning never tire of speaking about the country’s central geographical location. Our military keeps discussing our superior strategic orientation. Our economists speak in glowing terms of our geo-economic potential.
All this is just idle talk until we not only formulate but also implement a viable and well-thought out strategy designed to exploit our natural advantages. One area which best epitomizes our yearned-for potential but is currently a picture of neglect is that of the maritime sector. Our lack of awareness about this sphere can be gauged from the fact that even supposedly enlightened individuals would be hard pressed to name more than two aspects associated with the maritime spectrum.
The significance of the maritime sector can best be emphasized through an established sequence of linkages:
- First and foremost, in terms of opportunity, some 95% of world trade by volume is carried out via the sea. This is not to say that the carriage of goods begins at one port and ends at another. The most competitive logistics management companies now offer customized door-to-door services. In furtherance of the concept of intermodality, rail transportation should have been an obvious choice for us for our freight movements from our ports along our major arteries. Strengthening the railways should thus have been a strategic imperative for us as it contributes towards the cost-effectiveness of the supply chain and reinforcement of the maritime sector.
- Secondly, a large number of ships are needed for the purpose; those include container vessels, crude carriers, chemical carriers, LNG carriers, break-bulk cargo carriers, general cargo carriers and so on; and hence the need for trained seafarers and the commercial importance of ship-building yards. Seafaring is a job that is well-paying and much in demand. A projected global shortfall of around 84000 exists, which our own nationals can comfortably fill to a reasonable extent, provided they are educated and trained. A country like the Phillipines currently provides up to 33% of the seagoing workforce. Ship-building is another profitable enterprise; it’s potential can be gauged from S Korea’s example, whose yards bagged orders of around US $ 48.16 billion during the last year (2011).
- Now, these ships have to be berthed in ports to load and off-load their cargo; this generates a number of activities like logistics management, cargo handling and transportation, pilotage, tugs, navigational aids, dredging, port control etc. In order to be competitive, ports these days are required to provide a diverse range of integrated services. The availability of logistics centres, free trade zones and multimodal transportation facilities within the port increases it’s productivity. The revenue generated by the port operations alone of the Port of Singapore is over US $ 4 billion.
- These ships also need periodical maintenance and repairs; and hence the need for ship-repair yards. Ship repair requirements include emergency dockings, machinery defects, hull conversion, tanks cleaning, overhauls, alterations and repainting. Ship conversion is also a lucrative activity. A repair yard can, however, only prosper if it consistently meets it’s schedules and completes its work satisfactorily.
- Tourism continues to flourish globally and within this sector, coastal tourism and eco-tourism are most in demand. And with it comes the requirement for cruise ships, recreational boats, submersibles, diving and snorkelling equipment, hotels, promenades, shopping centres etc. Marine tourism has the potential to contribute significantly to the economy of coastal regions. Even if foreign tourists are difficult to attract due to the unstable law and order situation prevailing in the country, domestic sea-based tourism is in itself a lucrative sector to tap.
- All over the world, fisheries, aquaculture and mariculture generate a lot of revenue and jobs, both in prime and associated fields. If a country like Viet Nam can earn over 3 billion dollars annually, there is no reason why we should be stuck at 200 million dollars only. Our goal should however be sustainable fisheries, which can only come about if we strictly enforce the ban on all destructive forms of fishing and fishing practices. Protection of our fisheries habitats in marine and fresh water ecosystems such as wetlands, mangroves and spawning areas is also essential for attaining sustainable exploitation.
- Ship-recycling industry creates a large number of jobs and generates vast amounts of cheap raw material. Though Pakistan has regained it’s position as one of the three foremost ship-breaking yards, this has been at the expense of safety and welfare needs of it’s workers. These shouldn’t be compromised at any cost.
- As businesses multiply, such thriving maritime activities give rise to maritime clusters and ancillary services such as insurance, banking, brokering, classification, consultancy etc which add to the robustness of the sector. Such clusters help to develop a knowledge base through skill-sharing, and create business opportunities for maritime-related activities and expand employment prospects.
- The oceanic potential of offshore hydrocarbons and usable mineral deposits is immense. These include iron, manganese nodules and crusts, oil, gas and gas hydrates, with the latter having all the trappings of evolving into a very useful source of clean energy. Preliminary scientific indicators points to the presence of large deposits of gas hydrates off the coast of Balochistan.
It needs to be kept in mind that a prerequisite for availing the benefits of the vast maritime sector is capacity-building through marine education and marine scientific research.
The marine environment and it’s biodiversity is a valuable natural resource which needs to be guarded against from internal and external threats, the greatest of which stems from pollution. What is little known about marine pollution off our coast is that it primarily originates from land-based sources like agricultural nutrients, industrial effluents and untreated sewage in particular. Apart from setting up sewage treatment plants on a large scale to prevent untreated sewage flowing into the sea, unwanted discharges from oil refineries and other industries need to be kept under check.
The major problem, however, which keeps us from taking advantage of the immense potential of the maritime sector is a general lack of awareness and consequently a lack of vision and capacity. Just imagine the quality of life we would have in our coastal belt if the development of our pristine coast is planned and managed in accordance with a sound integrated Coastal Zone Management Plan; if tens of thousands of our citizens earn their livelihood respectably through environmentally safe recycling of ships, through sustainable fisheries, through ship-building & repairs, through sailing the world’s oceans as seafarers and gainful employment in various trades associated with a robust coastal tourism industry. That day can come soon, as soon as the multi-billion dollar importance of the maritime sector dawns upon us.
Note: This is the text of a speech delivered by me at a conference held at the Federation House auditorium on 11 January 2012 to formally announce the launch of a new weekly publication ‘Corporate Ambassador’. It was subsequently published in the same weekly newspaper in it’s issue of 25 January 2012 under the heading ‘Pakistan can earn billions of dollars from maritime’. It was also published in the June 2012 issue of the ‘Navy News’.