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jueves, 27 de octubre de 2011

Pakistan needs to recognise services of its seafarers

Source: Pakistan Today

KARACHI - The World Maritime Day is an event of considerable significance in the calendar of the seafaring states, but somehow it passes by virtually unnoticed within Pakistan. The International Maritime Organisation (IMO), which is a specialised agency of the United Nations, is the moving spirit behind its observance. The IMO celebrated the day at its headquarters in London on September 29, while its 169 member states were allowed the flexibility to do so anytime during the last week of September (26th to 30th).
Meant to recognise the international maritime industry’s mammoth contribution towards the global economy, the day also focuses on the importance of shipping safety, maritime security, marine environment and technical and legal matters. A particular aspect of IMO’s work is also now being highlighted each year. Last year’s theme revolved around the seafarer, the most basic of ingredients that makes world trade possible. Sometime around the middle of that year, a diplomatic conference at Manila which was deliberating upon major revisions to the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watch-keeping for Seafarers and its associated code, gave official sanction to the idea to celebrate 25 June (the day these revisions were adopted) each year as the Day of the Seafarer.
We in Pakistan too need to recognise the services rendered by our seafarers, who mostly sail under foreign flags, to the cause of world trade and uplifting the global economy. These unsung heroes work in arduous conditions at sea, with very little time in harbour owing to the rapid turnaround times in most world ports. It is an accepted fact that a majority of world shipping is registered under flags of convenience, where regulatory standards are lax and where a lack of interest in the welfare of the ship and its crew is visible. Seafarers are thus not amply protected against excesses that they may be subjected to during routine operations. The trend of filing criminal charges against seafarers for political purposes and for causes beyond their control is an unhealthy one and grossly detrimental to the morale of this hardy workforce.
A far bigger threat confronting the international shipping industry is the increasing global shortage of seafarers, particularly the officers’ cadre, where the projected shortfall in 2012 is 84,000.
Cognizant of this grave crisis, the IMO, in association with the International Labour Organisation, the International Transport Workers Federation and the premier shipping NGOs, has, since November 2008, been pursuing a ‘Go to Sea’ campaign. This initiative is aimed at popularising seafaring as a viable career choice. Our government should likewise do its bit in upgrading our basic and periodical merchant marine training programs in order to generate interest amongst our vast reservoir of educated and unemployed individuals.
The most pressing threat being faced by the seafarers these days stems from piracy. The scale of the mayhem can be imagined from the fact that Somali pirates seized 49 vessels in 2010 alone, while capturing a record 1016 hostages. Eight crew members died, with 13 being wounded, up from four deaths and 10 wounded in the previous year (2009).
With the steep rise in the ransoms being demanded, crew members - i.e. the pawns in the drama - are being detained for much longer to allow negotiations to succeed. Ships were held for an average of 55 days in 2009, while the last four ships released in end 2010 were detained for an average of 150 days. It took more than 10 months for the release of the MV Suez crew to materialize. Some seafarers are still known to be languishing in captivity for over a year.
Seen in this context, the theme selected for WMD 2011 appears to be the most appropriate, namely “Piracy – Orchestrating the Response”. Despite the fact that the challenges posed by piracy have been amply recognized, the global response has been patchy and the international will to uproot this menace less-than-apparent. The UN as a body has unanimously passed a number of Security Council resolutions meant to facilitate states in the capture and even the prosecution of pirates.
The IMO has prepared a consolidated action plan, aimed at eradicating piracy through a well-coordinated broad-based global response, which addresses the following major objectives:
a.Securing immediate release of all the hostages in captivity. This may seem like a tall order as hardly any government is in a position to exert any influence over the pirates. The plight of the captives is however too intense to be ignored.
b.Providing guidance to the industry. IMO keeps issuing guidelines to ships and to their administrators for the use of basic preventive and defensive measures in a bid to deter and thwart acts of piracy.
c.Seeking greater naval support. Though many warships are engaged in anti-piracy operations, their strength is still insufficient vis-à-vis the ever-expanding area that the reach of the pirates is extending to.
d.Promoting anti-piracy cooperation. Risks can be reduced through better information sharing and civil-military coordination. This cooperation can be at three different levels – among states, regions and organizations. Regional initiatives are serving a useful purpose.
e.Building capacity to deter, capture and prosecute. All maritime states, with sufficient will and resolve, need to be suitably assisted for enhancing their maritime capacities, thereby enabling them to exert a positive influence in ensuring the safety and security of life at sea.
f.Providing care to affected seafarers and their families. Humanitarian organisations engaged in extending succour to the hostages need to be encouraged and supported.
The problem with piracy is that it picks up steam as it chugs along. Each time a huge amount of money floods into the pirate-infested zone in the form of the ever-increasing ransom payments, the piratical enterprise gets a boost and recruits to its cause swell. The answer, some say, obviously lies in outlawing ransom payments. Easier said than done! Thousands of innocent hostages may have to pay the ultimate price before the pirates soak in the lesson. Can the world afford that? The long-term solution lies in investing in the future of the youth of the lawless Somali autonomous regions by supporting the setting up of a requisite organizational infrastructure that generates better governance and upholds the rule of law.
Pakistan is playing a positive role by regularly contributing a warship to the combined task force dedicated for anti-piracy operations. Its efforts have been recognised by making it a member of the UN Contact Group on piracy and periodically entrusting the Pakistan Navy with the overall command of Task Force 151- with the Pakistan Navy being the only regional navy to be so honoured. We need to, however, expand our influence in the political arena also by taking greater interest in on-going developments. On the local front, we need to initiate the process of including sea piracy as a cognisable offence in our penal code so that in case any pirate is captured by a Pakistan Navy warship, we are not caught on the wrong foot.
Above all, in the context of the World Maritime Day, being celebrated for the past thirty three years, Pakistan needs to recognise the significance of maritime activities and its economic dividends.

The writer is currently serving as the Director General National Centre for Maritime Policy Research, based at the Bahria University Karachi Campus.

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