Intricacies of the Maritime Domain


From an historical perspective, activities at sea can be characterised by coastal trade, transoceanic passages, piracy, subjugation, profiteering and colonisation, a subsidiary objective being the gaining of ascendency on land. The maritime field has over time undergone a drastic transformation, both on the military and non-military fronts. Amongst a horde of other activities, sea connectivity and trade take pride of place as drivers of the global economy. The International Maritime Organisation, which cobbled together the UN Convention on Law of the Sea in 1982, assists in the crafting of much-needed maritime conventions to fulfill the vital need of establishing universally acceptable standards for maritime safety, security and environmental protection.

Present day maritime activities and processes now fall under the all-enveloping term ‘Maritime Domain’ and thus ‘Maritime Domain Awareness’ becomes a prerequisite for the materialisation of maritime aspirations. Pakistan is admittedly a coastal state but before it can even dream of becoming a maritime power, it has to shed off its historical baggage and stand prepared to overhaul its manner of doing business by creating an autonomous, effective and efficient administration. A dedicated and fully functional maritime administration is the key to looking after a state’s maritime interests, inclusive of the international obligations required of a flag state as well as the judicial exercise of Port State Control.

Being a signatory to more than two dozen odd maritime conventions, Pakistan can only satisfactorily meet its national and international obligations if it is professionally geared to do so, which is why the enactment of domestic maritime legislation continues to be a weak area. In a domain constantly in flux, stagnancy is not an option. Changes within have to be brought about, administratively, operationally and functionally, to cater to the changes without. This forms the crux of the problem which stands in the way of the country transitioning from a coastal state to a responsible coastal state to a successful maritime power.

The sea hath no king but God alone                (Dante Gabriel Rossetti)

When seen from shore, the undulating and rhythmic vastness of the sea must definitely have appeared to the pre-modern man as something of an insurmountable barrier, formidable and forbidding. As the acclaimed seafarer-cum-novelist Joseph Conrad put it, “ The sea has never been friendly to man. At most, it has been the accomplice of human restlessness.” The few hardy and intrepid souls who dared to venture out into its cryptic void were most likely inspired by the commercial need to trade and a possible urge for adventure. The early Greeks, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Arabs, Persians, Chinese and Indians extensively indulged in coastal trade from the Mediterranean to the east coast of Africa through the Red Sea, and from the southern coast of the Arabian peninsula all along the coast of India to South East Asia and beyond.1

One of the peculiarities associated with the Indian Ocean, that of virtual confinement dotted with straits, enabled the earliest voyages to take place as far back as the fifth millennium BCE.2  It’s unique wind patterns, more explosive during the summer months, were originally perceived as a prohibitive influence, but once the nature of the monsoonal pattern was understood, the Indian Ocean hosted the earliest transoceanic passages too.3

Trade and transmigration thus continued to bring the peoples of the littoral together till the prevailing tranquility was shattered by the brusque arrival of Vasco de Gama at Calicut,India, in 1498.4 Portugal’s endeavour thereafter was to gain a stranglehold over trade, both within and beyond the Indian Ocean region, by systematically identifying and occupying strategically located port cities like Goa, Colombo, Melaka, Hormuz and Diu.The introduction of the politics of force, protection racket and later the excessive taxation imposed on the movement of goods was thus a foregone conclusion.6

The successful Spanish foray into the heartland of its European neighbour, Portugal, during the latter part of the 16th century encouraged the Dutch, who were the main distributor of spices within Europe, to make a bid for obtaining the item directly from its source. By the time the Dutch East India Company(VOC) was set up in 1602, Dutch trading companies were already raking in fabulous profits.7 As the Dutch started easing out the Portuguese from their fortified chokepoints, the English and the French also commenced establishing their own special zones of interest.

The Dutch model, a mixture of deception and ruthlessness, was an exceedingly successful one while it lasted: hard to imagine though that the same VOC which was turning profits to the tune of up to 1700% by selling Melaku spices in Europe would go bankrupt barely a century and a half later in the 1790’s.8 Colonial incursions in general caused the traditional markets to decline at the expense of newer ones like Madras, Bombay and Calcutta, all set up from scratch by the English East India Company.9 Gaining footholds in the regions around Madras and Calcutta helped the East India Company to expand and consolidate its position inland, allowing it to venture into the fields of manufacturing and marketing as well.10 Some 19th century developments like the gaining of complete maritime ascendancy in Europe by the British, the opening of the Suez Canal, the advent of steam and the decline of the Mughal empire, helped Britain tighten its grip over the entire Indian Ocean region.11

Each of the four major colonial powers justified their brutal domination of the Indian Ocean under different pretexts. The Portuguese looked at it as their God-given right, for the seizing of which no amount of violence was reprehensible enough. To put this in perspective, it was actually the Pope, who in order to resolve a feud between the two neighbouring catholic powers of Spain and Portugal as to dominion over the Atlantic Ocean, had drawn a line neatly through the middle of this ocean, assigning Portugal everything to the east, which was taken to include the entire Indian Ocean also.12

When the Dutch grew confident enough to challenge the might of the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean, their claim to equal access was supported by detailed legal arguments penned by a young Dutch scholar named Grotius. One of the chapters of his book, Mare Liberum(the open sea), which earned him global acclaim, was published as an independent treatise in 1608.13

British maritime influence being no less significant at the time, an accomplished English lawyer, John Selden, sought to counter Grotius’s arguments through his own work, Mare Clausum(the closed sea), which essentially argued that the sea was as subject to contest and appropriation as the land.14  Grotius’s case about the freedom of the sea has since won the day.

As far as the French were concerned, their move to the Indian Ocean was a simple case of taking the fight against its near perpetual enemy, Britain, for maritime supremacy well beyond the confines of the English Channel and the Mediterranean. By comparison, they were far less successful in making their mark in the Indian Ocean region, both in terms of trade and naval supremacy, because of a lack of drive, owing to which adequate resources couldn’t be set aside. The only foothold they could manage to hold on to by the end of the disastrous Napoleonic wars was either in Indo-China or in some parts of East Africa.

While momentous developments were indeed unfolding in our midst, which altered the course of history forever, it would not be prudent to ignore the broader struggle being waged throughout Europe and the Americas, during all of which maritime supremacy played a large role in influencing the military situation on land. The diminishing political and military fortunes of Spain, Portugal, Holland and France at home ultimately led to their decline in the Indian Ocean. The disastrous wars with England in 1653-54 and later in 1780 wiped out the Dutch.15 The mutually advantageous Treaty of London of 1824 enabled them to retain control over the Indonesian peninsula, while ceding space to the British in the Malay peninsula across the strait.16

Broadly speaking, the Portuguese acted primarily as crusaders, the Dutch as traders17 and the British as colonisers, the resort to rapaciousness and exorbitant taxation being secondary attributes. All behaved abominably, the British perhaps slightly less so because of the vast spread and deeper entrenchment of their enterprise. None believed in the concept of free trade but sought to dominate trade in one way or another, because of which the long term advantages to the region as well as to the colonisers themselves were limited.

The coastal belt of present-day Pakistan had somehow remained oblivious to all the changes taking place around it. Ironically, it was the American civil war of the 1860s taking place half a world away, along with the disruption of the cotton trade, that triggered the construction of Karachi harbour to facilitate cotton exports from the fertile Indus delta.

So if an illustrious diplomat-cum-strategist like K M Pannikar lends credence to claims against India ignoring its seaward legacy18 and voices being periodically raised within Pakistan about the ‘sea-blindness’ of those in the corridors of power, the reasons, deeply rooted in history, are not hard to spot. At the time of the Portuguese incursion, the main sea traders were mostly Muslim and indeed the only significant resistance the Portuguese encountered was from the hereditary Admirals of the Ali Marakar family of Calicut. The Muslim traders were thus most severely affected by the Portuguese monopoly over the pepper and spices trade, while the Hindus and Jains, who dominated the internal economy were impacted more by the inland tentacles of the British. Present day Pakistan, being an agrarian economy, remained aloof from the vagaries of the sea and the lessons gleaned from the unfolding pages of history passed it by and continues to do so. But more of that anon.

For a very long time, the sea was considered to be a sort of a no-man’s-land, with fortune favouring the adventurous. Piracy emerged virtually simultaneously with sea trade as it didn’t take much imagination to realise that there was as much money to be made in the trading of commodities as in looting them enroute. Piracy principally prospered because of two reasons: countries most impacted by it still considered it to be a lesser evil in comparison to their adversaries on land; and secondly, feuding countries were not averse to recruiting these prolific buccaneers to target the ships of their enemies. This was given a semblance of legality through the issuance of lettres de marche, some 300 of which were issued during the American War of Independence, which helped turn the tide against the British. The appointment of Khairuddin Barbarossa aka Redbeard as Admiral-in-Chief of the Ottoman Empire by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent assisted in making Turkey into the most formidable naval power in the eastern Mediterranean for 33 years. Queen Elizabeth’s patronage of Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh, amongst others, enabled Britain to challenge the might of imperial Spain in the western Atlantic.

This is not to say that the heinous and criminal nature of wanton killing at sea for the sake of plunder has always gone unrecognised. As far back as the 4th century BCE, Marcus Tullius Cicero did not consider pirates to be ‘lawful enemies but as the common enemy of all’.19  During the days of sail in particular, seafaring was all about battling the elements, and piracy added an undesirable element to the mix. It is only when the concept of pirates being ‘hostis humani generis’(enemies of all mankind) – to be hunted down and killed on sight as a universal right – took root in Admiralty Law that the struggle against piracy took on a global dimension. Piracy has indeed been recognised as a crime in UNCLOS 82,20 for the suppression of which all states are enjoined to cooperate fully.21

The industrial revolution had ushered in a new technological era of inland connectivity through rail, overland connectivity through robust steam-powered vessels, and more powerful men-of-war, with long range guns, for sea power projection. For nations and navies used to a particular way of life, it was but natural, amidst the changes taking place at a breath-taking pace, for questions pertaining to the importance of seapower, the place of the Navy as an element of national security and the constitution of ships within a fleet, to arise.

One voice which resonated in favour of seapower, and continues to do so to this day and age, was that of Alfred Thayer Mahan, a naval strategist at the US Naval War College. He drew upon historical examples from the days of sail to illustrate the extraordinary influence seapower has exerted in attaining prosperity and military ascendency on land. He felt that navies, and strong ones at that, would continue to remain indispensable as long as there are ports, commerce and colonies to defend.22

His British contemporary, Sir Julian Corbett, furnished a clearer, and perhaps broader, perspective as to how power can be exercised at sea, by deliberating upon the major principles of maritime strategy ‘which govern a war in which the sea is a substantial factor.23  While acknowledging the near impossibility of winning a war through naval action alone, the operational doctrine that he expounded includes a detailed discussion of the various methods of securing, disrupting and exercising command.24

The current maritime environment, though getting busier by the day, has arguably become more safe and orderly due to the near universal acceptance of the various maritime conventions that streamline its conduct. In times of war, however, it tends to get a whole lot messier as long range missiles can be unleashed with unprecedented vehemence from underneath, above and on the surface of the sea.

While the principles that Mahan and his British contemporaries like Sir Julian Corbett, Admiral P H Colomb and Admiral Sir Herbert Richmond formulated still hold good in a general sense, the maritime environment since their time has undergone a drastic transformation. Triggered by the advent of the submarine and the airplane, the technological revolution now embraces nuclear propulsion, nuclear tipped missiles, and ever improving means of detection, intelligence gathering, surveillance and targeting. Each individual navy is however expected to formulate and execute its own developmental and employment strategy in line with its own specific national and maritime interests.

Having said that, it is equally noteworthy that everything on the non-military front has not been static either. Commercial vessels, some 90,000 of which currently ply on the surface of the sea, now include container vessels, break bulk cargo ships, passenger ferries, cruise liners, Ro-Ro vessels, refrigerated cargo carriers, oil tankers, liquefied gas tankers, chemical tankers, fishing craft, marine scientific research vessels, oceanographic and survey ships. There are some 4000 odd ports worldwide for meeting the berthing, provisioning and cargo handling needs of these vessels. The more vibrant a port, the more efficiently it undertakes its responsibilities and the greater the level of value additive services on offer, the more attraction it holds. Ship construction and repairs has also become a booming industry for catering to the essential needs of the shipping sector. Associated maritime activities like ship classification, vessel surveys and marine insurance are also concurrently thriving. Oil and gas are being extracted from under the seabed, and innovational technology can enable the harvesting of gas hydrates and minerals from the sea as well as the generation of energy from sea waves.

As these activities proliferated, the maritime community, which till the 19th century was principally preoccupied with safety and security aspects at sea, devised its own mechanism to deal with changing realities and in time, the consensual rules that they formulated gained acceptance as customary international law.

Calls for the codification of international law however gained urgency during the post WW 1 period. Though some headway was made at the Hague Convention held in 1930 under the auspices of the League of Nations, consensus on an all-encompassing convention encapsulating all the laws of the sea still seemed a long way away. The first UN Convention on the Law of the Sea(UNCLOS) was accordingly held in Geneva from 24 Feb to 27 Apr 1958, which resulted in four conventions and an optional protocol being opened up for signature. These pertained to Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone(CTS), the High Seas(CHS), Fishing & Conservation of Living Resources of the High Seas(CFCLR) and the Continental Shelf(CCS), with the optional protocol dealing with the Compulsory Settlement of Disputes(OPSD). Most provisions of the Geneva Convention, it is true, were a reflection of customary international law as being historically practised.25

The second UNCLOS, held again in Geneva from 16 Mar to 26 Apr 1960, was primarily organised to break the logjam over two primary unresolved issues of the breadth of the territorial waters and the fishing limits. No progress could however be made as these talks were dominated by the two superpowers of the time, the United States and the Soviet Union, with other countries being relegated to the sidelines.

It was only in 1967 when, after an impassioned plea at the UN by Arvid Pardo of Malta, highlighting the issue of varying claims of territorial waters and the imperative of resolving it, that the idea of a third UNCLOS took root. This conference, which was convened in 1973 in New York and went on till 1982, proved to be a success as it deployed a consensual process rather than merely relying on a majority vote which could have been influenced by the major players. This convention replaced the four 1958 treaties and defined the rights and responsibilities of nations with respect to their use of the world’s oceans, establishing guidelines for commerce, the environment and the management of marine natural resources. The Convention was opened up for signature by Sep 1982 and came into force in 1994, an year after the 60th nation signed the treaty. Pakistan too went on to ratify the same on 26 Feb 1997.26

UNCLOS ‘82, as it is called, was a defining moment in maritime history. Not only did it establish a formal world maritime order for coastal and even non-coastal states to abide and profit by, it strongly discouraged the use of force to resolve disputes, offering in lieu a number of prestigious forums to seek legal relief.

Owing to the ubiquitous nature of maritime commerce, and to a limited extent marine recreation, the International Maritime Organisation(IMO), an organ of the United Nations, now fulfils the vital need of establishing universally acceptable standards for maritime safety, security and environmental protection. It thus remains involved in updating the existing set of regulations on safety, security, training standards and  pollution, amongst others, while formulating and promoting new conventions in step with the times.27 IMO seeks assistance in this endeavour from agencies like the Food & Agriculture Organisation(FAO), the International Labour Organisation(ILO) and the International Chamber of Shipping(ICS), amongst others. The global regulatory framework which emerges proves to be a boon for international shipping, as it furnishes it with the right sort of environment to flourish in.

The various international conventions, codes and protocols which have been so painstakingly crafted by the IMOs technical committees with the willing participation of all major stakeholders, constitute a legislative bedrock, whose universal implementation is the key to a thriving maritime industry.

Amongst a multitude of such conventions governing every aspect of maritime life, some like SOLAS(Safety of Life at Sea), STCW(Standards of Training, Certification & Watch-keeping), MARPOL(Maritime Pollution) and MLC(Maritime Labour Convention) constitute the four main pillars on which international maritime law rests. Taken together, they create a safe, environmentally sound and conducive working environment. The standards established through these maritime conventions are however of not much use if proper oversight and effective implementation are lacking. This responsibility falls on the shoulders of flag states and shipping companies, with port state control playing a strong supportive role. IMO also remains involved through its technical cooperation program, focusing particularly on those member states with a limited technical capability which inhibits their ability to implement. The entire process is cooperative and consensual in nature, which encourages willing participation.

In a field as wide open as the sea, where a relatively small country(Denmark) has been managing the world’s largest container fleet(Maersk Line) since the past two decades, the question arises as to why Pakistan is not living up to even a fraction of its maritime potential. The answer lies in two of the principal conditions (enunciated by Mahan) which influence a nation’s Seapower, namely character of the government and character of the people.28  Seen from a historical perspective, England did not fail to realise that its only road to prosperity led through the sea. For the Dutch, the sea  was their only lifeline, their only hope for survival as a nation and as a people, which they eagerly grasped.29. Spain and Portugal sought through the sea immeasurable wealth through loot and plunder, but completely lost their moral compass along the way. For South Asia, the Indus Valley civilisation in particular, which was self-sufficient in those days, the sea held little promise. Since the sea was of secondary importance then, so it has still remained.

Though present day Pakistan conducts more than 95% of its trade through the sea, the continental mindset of the government and the people still exists. The ongoing hype surrounding Gwadar did create, it must be confessed, an army of maritime soothsayers, but managed precious little by way of either invigorating a blue economy or even generating awareness of the broader maritime domain. Without developing a proper understanding of maritime activities, the conventions which govern them, the land sea interface and associated linkages, attaining prosperity through the maritime route would remain a pipe dream. Maritime policy making, planning and execution is not all about having more ports, more ships and more shipyards, as it is generally perceived in the post-Gwadar environment. It has much more to do with timing, market forces, value addition, competitiveness and efficiency.

As is generally appreciated, UNCLOS ‘82 bequeathed to all coastal states, including Pakistan, a narrow strip of water extending upto 12 nautical miles from a coastal baseline, as its Territorial Waters; up to 24 nautical miles as its Contiguous Zone; up to 200 nautical miles as its Exclusive Economic Zone and up to 350 nautical miles as its extended Continental Shelf.30. The last one has been hard-earned by collecting, collating and presenting data for evaluation by a 21 member UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf to confirm the continuity of the Shelf beyond the 200 mile limit of the EEZ.31

The country’s territorial waters are considered to be a part of its land territory, and almost the same rules apply here as well, except for the one relating to innocent passage. Within the Contiguous Zone, the country reserves the right to ensure that its customs, fiscal, immigration or sanitary laws are not infringed in any manner. Within the EEZ, the state can exclusively benefit from its living and non-living resources, while exploitation of the oil, gas and mineral deposits under the seabed in the extended Continental Shelf falls under its purview.32

The extent and nature of our so-called fifth province is generally known. What is less known is the responsibility that comes with it, as also the fact that authority over this vast space can only really be exercised if the country has the will, and consequently the wherewithal, to do so.

First, we need to understand that the sharp demarcation between land and sea, as perceived in the past, is no longer there. Where once ports alone were considered to provide a linkage between land and sea, the entire coastal belt now constitutes a land-sea interface. This stems from the Earth Summit at Rio in 1992 where inter alia the concept of Integrated Coastal Zone Management. The obvious impact of terrestrial and oceanic processes on each other makes it imperative to undertake coastal planning in an integrated and sustainable manner.33  At Pakistan’s end, this vital issue has been entrusted, almost by default, to the National Institute of Oceanography, working under the Ministry of Science & Technology, which despite hosting two international conferences in 1994 and 2010, couldn’t make much headway in terms of implementation simply because its expertise lies in scientific research, which is a supportive function, rather than in the field of maritime administration.34

The relatively underdeveloped nature of the Makran coast, often cited as a negative factor hindering maritime growth, should be looked at as an opportunity for planning its development along modern lines. For this to happen, an Integrated Coastal Zone Development Plan needs to be prepared by a competent central authority charged with such a function, after forging a broad consensus amongst all the concerned stakeholders, both public and private. It’s execution likewise, in terms of sustainable development and management, should not be left to land-based development authorities in the coastal provinces of Sindh and Baluchistan but by a dedicated coastal agency which understands the contours and implications of the approved ICZDP.

Secondly, it is worth appreciating that where previously our area of concern was with individual maritime activities and processes, the terminology of maritime domain has now taken root. This refers to ‘all areas and things of, on, under, relating to, adjacent to, or bordering on a sea, ocean, or other navigable waterway, including all maritime related activities, infrastructure, people, cargo and vessels and other conveyances’.35 This seems rather complex at first sight, but that can be attributed to the fact that this definition is meant to be all-inclusive, to encompass the full range of activities and linkages involved. From a military perspective, it’s definition is simplified to just include ‘the oceans, seas, and the airspace above these, including the littoral’.36. On the heels of these definitions, another associated terminology has cropped up, that of ‘Maritime Domain Awareness’ which pertains to the ‘effective understanding of anything associated with the maritime domain that could impact the security, safety, economy or environment.’ 37

The maritime domain is characteristically complex; and yet it is only by developing an understanding of its life giving force can one hope to remain in sync with the transformational changes taking place within it and be in a position to reap the untold benefits that come with it. The road to success is paved with timely decision making, effective implementation and by keeping a step or two ahead of the competition. Besides, our inability to address vital issues like piracy, pollution, ports & ship security, ship classification, recruitment, standards of training and certification of seafarers, as framed in various international maritime conventions and their associated amendments, in our own domestic legislation places us at a distinct disadvantage.

The only piece of existing domestic legislation governing the exploitation and enforcement of our maritime zones is Pakistan’s Maritime Zones & Territorial Waters Act of 1976, which presumably took its cue from a similar Bangladesh initiative enacted two years earlier.38  It is a rather basic piece of legislation, which predates UNCLOS 82 by 6 years and its ratification by Pakistan by a further 16 years. It is surprising that no need has been felt to upgrade it in line with the duly signed and ratified UN Convention. Since UNCLOS was opened up for signature in 1982, the only piece of related domestic legislation enacted by Pakistan is the ‘Carriage of Goods by Sea Act 2010(passed by the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Ports & Shipping in December 2011), which is based on a British Act of 1992 of the same name and which replaced the British-era Act of 1925 which Pakistan was still following at the time. This also only came about because of the pressure exerted by the Exporters Group, who were finding it increasingly difficult to function in an environment completely out of sync with current international shipping practices.39

Pakistan is admittedly a coastal state, but before it can even think of becoming a maritime power, it needs to overhaul its system of doing business by creating an autonomous, effective and efficient maritime administration. What we have at the moment is an apology for one. The Directorate General Ports & Shipping was set up at a time when the vital subjects of ports and shipping were being handled by the Communications Ministry and a maritime-oriented field office was needed at Karachi to service the peculiar needs of the mercantile community. This organisation, which came into being in 1962, performed a vital duty and met an inescapable need, but has now fallen prey to circumstances. Once a dedicated ministry of Ports & Shipping became its parent ministry, once the said Ministry started dealing directly with its three major field components, PNSC, KPT and PQA, and once these entities started becoming profitable and consequently autonomous, the Directorate General went into a dormant mode.

A maritime administration is not just meant to look after the day-to-day running of its maritime constituents; that the entities can do themselves. A maritime administration is supposed to look after all the maritime interests of a state, which includes the meeting of the international obligations required of a flag state, as well as the judicial exercise of Port State Control. Taking the International Ship & Port Facility Security Code, promulgated post 9/11, as an example, Pakistan in its capacity as a Flag State is supposed to conduct port facility security assessments, and based on the risks evaluated, to prepare approved port facility security plans for submission to the International Maritime Organisation. It is also required to ensure the provision of security level information to ships entitled to fly its flag and that its sole shipping company is fulfilling the responsibilities imposed upon it under the Code.40. As part of Port State Control, it is required to confirm that all necessary documentation and identity cards of the crew of a visiting vessel are in order and if reasonable grounds for suspicion exist, can even move to detain and search any such vessel.

Being a signatory to more than two dozen odd maritime conventions along with their attendant amendments, Pakistan can only really meet its national and international obligations effectively if it is functionally and professionally geared to do so. This would involve the replacement of the existing and outmoded Directorate General of Ports & Shipping with a much more broad-based and autonomous field organisation like say a National Maritime Authority, which should be capable of performing a multitude of administrative, supervisory and advisory functions to enable the state to meet its obligatory responsibilities. A robust maritime administration is thus required to ensure that all Pakistani seafarers are fully qualified to undertake their specified duties; that all ships flying under its national flag are duly registered and periodically surveyed, certified and classified; that all safety considerations like charts, navigational aids, appliances, equipment and Search & Rescue facilities remain fully compliant; that requisite anti-pollution measures remain in force; and above all, that good order is maintained within the various maritime zones by discouraging illegal activities and affording protection to the country’s maritime resources. This is indeed a tall order, one in which a suitable hierarchical structure, manned by a trained cadre at all levels is a prerequisite. This proposed authority should also serve as a single-window maritime operation and as a sort of an intermediary between the Government and all its maritime stakeholders. It should also be required to keep in touch with all maritime developments taking place in the world, and consequently its proposals for domestic legislation to serve our national interest should be respected.

Organisationally speaking, there was a time in the recent past when not even a single Ministry or even a Division, was exclusively devoted to any maritime aspect. Maritime issues were being dealt with by more than a dozen ministries without the slightest inkling that a linkage could possibly exist. Maritime issues therefore got relegated to the bottom of the heap in each Ministry’s list of priorities. Taking the present case of the Environmental Protection Agency working under the relatively new Ministry of Climate Change, it’s Sindh chapter appears least concerned with the massive amounts of sewage, agricultural nutrients and industrial effluents which make their way untreated into the sea, thereby irreparably damaging the marine ecology and biodiversity of the coast.

After the half-hearted experimentation of setting up a maritime division, which by its very nature was primed to fail, the supposedly next best option of a Marine Affairs Wing working under the Ministry of Defence was chosen. This was meant to coordinate the meetings of the National Maritime Affairs Coordination Committee, which was to consist of Secretary-level officers of each representing Ministry/Agency associated with maritime matters. Beyond providing a forum for irregular get- togethers, mostly by junior representatives, the NMACC concept has not resulted in any significant improvement because of the half-baked manner in which it was conceived and is being executed.

A slight upturn was witnessed after the setting up of a dedicated Ministry of Ports & Shipping, the first such one with a clear maritime orientation, and for the worse with the consequent stagnation of the Directorate General of Ports & Shipping, its field arm at Karachi. Since maritime activities include a whole lot more than just ports and shipping and since all maritime activities are interlinked in one way or another, the need for setting up a dedicated ministry, say the Ministry of Maritime Affairs, becomes inescapable. Moreover, a field setup like the National Maritime Authority, as proposed earlier, can only gain respect and credibility if an equivalent policy-making instrument exists at the next higher level.

A functional maritime oriented hierarchy is indeed a prerequisite for addressing the myriad maritime issues of concern. What is even more important is that the entire cadre involved in the policy and decision making chain should have a strong maritime background. This can only come about if a National Maritime University is setup to generate awareness in subjects as diverse as ship architecture, maritime law, port management, logistics management, public administration, marine conservation and dredging, as well as marine scientific research fields like climate science, marine biology, marine fisheries, aquaculture, ocean drilling and coring, seabed exploration, geological/geophysical studies, marine ecology, hydrology, cyclotomy, sedimentology and physical/chemical oceanography.

It is surprising to note that in the long drawn out process of formulating and forging a consensus on the UN Law of the Sea Convention, Pakistan was not represented by any maritime professional but by the Legal Department of the Foreign Affairs Ministry. It was only after that it was revealed that UNCLOS had been opened up for signature that the Pakistan Navy decided to do its bit to fill the maritime void. PN was thus instrumental in initiating the case for setting up of the Maritime Security Agency, without which it was not possible to enforce the writ of the state in its maritime zones. Later, in the mid-1990s, the Navy also pursued the case for procurement of an Oceanographic Research Vessel for collection of data required to press the country’s case for extension of its continental shelf from the existing 200 nautical miles to 350. A vessel had to be subsequently leased to fulfill this requirement prior to the cut-off date of May 2009. Pakistan’s claim has now been recognised by the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. Such efforts also resulted in the Chief of Naval Staff being made the Chief Technical Advisor on maritime affairs to the Prime Minister in the mid-1990s. This decision has not however been fully institutionalised in the decision-making process.

In the absence of a professional set-up, state entities have developed reliance on a winning formula: create hype, exaggerate achievements and never talk about failures or unrealised potential. So if our only shipping line talks about its winning ways since the past decade, it will fail to mention that this has been on the back of exercising the right of first refusal of state cargo or on leasing its ships on charter. So if our sole shipyard talks about turning profits since being handed over to the Defence Production Ministry, it will fail to mention the number of tenders it has won on the basis of competitive bidding for ship construction or repairs. Again, if the Gwadar Port Authority shows us the huge infrastructure that has come up in the desert out of virtually nothing, it will hesitate to mention that despite completion of the first phase of the project some 11 years ago, the port is still not handling commercial cargo. So if the Karachi Deepwater Container Port is hailed as a milestone, its management will fail to mention that its scheduled completion date has been overextended by some 7 years; that its cargo handling capacity is severely constrained by a lack of space and congested outside access; that its location and handling capacity precludes its use as a transshipment port; that the country’s stagnant exports would adversely affect its profitability. So if our fishing industry talks about its huge fish exports, the impact of the unauthorised practices employed on sustainability and ecology are ignored. So if our ship-breaking industry talks about the large amount of taxes it contributes to the national exchequer, it will fail to mention the cost at which it has been achieved: the unsafe practices adopted endangering the life and health of the workers and resulting in environmental havoc.

The major weak spots which thus emerge from the foregoing discussion are a general lack of understanding of maritime matters, an ineffective maritime hierarchy and consequently an insufficient capacity to plan and implement. In a domain constantly in flux, stagnancy is not an option. Changes will have to be undertaken, administratively, operationally and functionally, to cater to the changes without. This forms the crux of the problem which stands in the way of the country transitioning from a coastal state to a responsible coastal state to a successful maritime power. Whether we have the political will to transcend the inherent inhibitions that we are historically and temperamentally saddled with, will determine our future trajectory towards maritime prosperity.


  1. George F Hourani, Arab Seafaring in the Indian Ocean in Ancient and Early Medieval Times, Princeton University Press
  2. Michael Pearson, The Indian Ocean, Routledge, New York
  3. Robert D Kaplan, Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power, Random House, New York
  4. K M Pannikar, India and the Indian Ocean:An Essay on the Influence of Sea Power on Indian History, The Macmillan Company, New York
  5. Michael Pearson, The Indian Ocean, Routledge, New York
  6. Ibid
  7. Ibid
  8. Milo Kearney, The Indian Ocean in World History, Routledge, New York
  9. Ibid
  10. KM Pannikar, India and the Indian Ocean: An essay on the Influence of Sea Power on Indian History, The Macmillan Company, New York
  11. Ibid
  12. > Inter caetera
  13. Mare Liberum/work by Grotius/
  14. John Selden/English Jurist and Scholar/
  15. Alfred Thayer Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History 1660-1783, Methuen & Co Ltd, London
  16. Robert D Kaplan, Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power, Random House, New York
  17. Ibid
  18. K M Pannikar, India and the Indian Ocean: An Essay on the influence of Sea Power on Indian History, The Macmillan Company, New York
  19. Marcus Tullius Cicero, De Officiis
  20. UNCLOS ‘82, Art 101
  21. UNCLOS ‘82, Art 100
  22. Alfred Thayer Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History 1660-1783, Methuen & Co Ltd, London
  23. Sir Julian S Corbett, Some Principles of Maritime Strategy, Brassey’s Defence Publishers
  24. Ibid
  25. > avl > gclos > gclos
  26. > cse
  28. Alfred Thayer Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History 1660-1783, Methuen & Co Ltd, London
  29. Ibid
  30. UNCLOS ‘82
  31. > marine > jurisdiction
  32. > cse
  34. org > org > images
  35.> wiki > Maritime Domain Awareness
  36. > mda
  37. > wiki > Maritime Domain Awareness
  38. > depts > los > PDFFILES
  39. Pervaiz Ishfaq Rana,, Dec 10,2011
  40. > Security > Pages > SOLAS

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published.