Its time to pull up our socks
By Syed M. Aslam
August 30 - Sep 05, 1999
Will Pakistan enter the next millennium without a shipping fleet of its
own? The indications are; the heavy dependence on foreign shipping companies would get
worse in the years to come due to two primary factors the present national maritime
fleet is in a badly dilapidated state and will not be able to meet the stricter
International Security Codes of the International Maritime Organization. The stricter ISO
security codes would mean a crushing blow to the aged Pakistani fleet.
Pakistani shipping has witnessed a series of setback since early 1990s
when the private sector was allowed to bring investment into the shipping sector and one
shipping company, Tri-Star went bankrupt two years ago.
Pakistan is heavily dependent on foreign shipping companies which is
costing it a huge amount of foreign exchange annually. The total merchant marine fleet
strength of the country comprises of 15 vessels with the state-owned Pakistan National
Shipping Corporation (PNSC) and a single tanker, m.t. Johar, with its subsidiary, the
National Tanker Company.
The PNSC is lifting less than five per cent of the national seaborne
cargo on the vessels which have long run their economic lives. The total dead weight
tonnage (dwt) of the 15 PNSC vessels, including three used container ships which it
acquired in 1996, add up to 261,836. Including the tanker, m.t. Johar, the total tonnage
available with national shipping increases to 330,000 dwt.
PNSC fleet comprises of 12 break-bulk vessels whose average age is 18
years, including m.v. Islamabad which was built locally by Karachi Shipyard and
Engineering Works Limited (KSEW). Incidentally, it was also the last of the three ships
built for PNSC by the KSEW in 1983. m.v. Islamabad is also the biggest vessel (17,200 dwt)
built by the KSEW.
Six of PNSC fleet's break-bulk carriers were built in 1980, four in
1981, two in 1983 and one twenty years ago in 1979. Of the three used container vessels
acquired by the Corporation in 1996, two were built in 1983 while the year of manufacture
of the third was 1985. PNSC has not inducted any new tonnage since the early 1980s when it
acquired 14 ships to take its fleet strength to sixty.
In less than two decades PNSCs fleet strength declined to
one-fourth and today its aging fleet is in a dilapidated state many of which are on the
PNSC has remained in red most of the years since it was established in
1979 when Pakistan Shipping Corporation and the National Shipping Corporation were merged.
The Corporation earned an operating profit only five times during
twelve years between 1984 and 1995. It reverted back into black for the first time since
1992 when it posted an operating profit of Rs 59 million in 1996. However, its accumulated
losses soared to a record Rs 526 million during the same year.
Since then PNSC has managed to improve its financial performance to
earn an operating profit of Rs 282 million in 1997 and Rs 203 million in the year ended
June 30, 1998. However, as of June 30 last year, PNSCs accumulated loss stood as
high as Rs 353 million.
The Chairman of PNSC, Vice Admiral Obaid Ullah Khan, blamed low freight
rates internationally and economic recession as the primary cause of decline in the
operating profit in 1997-98. In addition, he also cited the slow-down in large-scale
manufacturing sector, incessant currency depreciation and a cut throat competition for the
He also blamed the withdrawal of the Right of First Refusal which gives
preference to the PNSC to lift the national cargo provided it matches the rates offered by
the lowest bidder, for hurting the profitability. PNSC carried much smaller quantities of
such captive national cargo as wheat and iron in 1997-98 which dropped from 2.4 million
tonnes to 0.297 million tonnes and from 1.343 million tonnes to 0.597 million tonnes
respectively over the previous year.
In the half-year ended December 31, 1998 PNSC managed to improve its
operating profit by over six-fold from Rs 15 million to Rs 92 million over the
corresponding period previous year. This was despite a 19 per cent decline in operating
revenues which fell from Rs 2.5 billion to Rs 2 billion during the same period. According
to the unaudited report, the reduction in operating revenues did not hurt the
profitability as operating expenses also declined by 22 per cent.
The PNSC earned an after-tax profit of Rs 18 million and its
accumulated loss decreased to Rs 335 million as compared to Rs 504 million during the
corresponding period the previous year.
TRI-STAR GOES BANKRUPT
Talking to PAGE, the chief executive of Tri-Star, Masood Baghpatee,
said that incentives alone will not help induct more vessels into the national maritime
fleet. Blaming the malaise in the shipping sector he said that the government doesnt
want to support the shipping sector as it does not even consider it an industry.
He was alluding to the first-ever attempt by the present government to
accord shipping the status of an industry and a number of incentives to attract the
private sector investment in the shipping sector. Incentives include duty-free import of
vessels and the removal of age and size bar on such imports. Ironically, it was the
abolition of the import duty which made PNSC to bring its container vessels which since
their induction in 1996 were chartered out by the Corporation on the Far Eastern route.
Baghpatee said that such incentives alone will not help induct
additional tonnage into the maritime fleet as no consideration has been paid by the
government to offer cargo protection to the operators. In a country where foreign shippers
are paid better freight charges than the local shipping companies who would like to invest
in the shipping sector, he asked.
The Local shippers are discouraged to lift any substantial quantity of
such captive cargo as wheat, iron, cotton, rice and fertilizer which alone adds up to 10
million tonnes. The foreign shippers are not only encouraged to lift the bulk of the cargo
but they are paid a much better a price than their local counterparts. For instance, US
flagships get as much as $ 85 per tonne to lift a commodity as compared to just $ 20 per
tonne by a local shipper for obvious reasons, he added.
Stressing the need of building a sizable maritime fleet, he said that
no foreign shippers would ever like to risk catering to the needs of Pakistani trade if,
God forbid, an eventuality takes place. In such a scenario even the PNSC would not be able
to ensure supply of even such basic commodity as oil as it has just one old and
Baghpatee said that he was ready to invest in the shipping sector once
again if the sector was accorded the cargo preference and protection not only to the PNSC
but all the local private sector shipping companies as freight rates worldwide were low
and there was a cut throat competition. Without cargo protection who would like to invest,
He also said that the government should establish a separate ministry
for shipping like India where the prime minister himself heads the special committee on
shipping. The creation of such a ministry is necessary to better coordinate the shipping
requirements of various ministries. For instance, ministry of production is responsible
for imports of iron ore and coal; ministry of food, agriculture and livestock makes
recommendations about quantity of wheat imports; while ministry of petroleum looks after
the oil imports. The centralization will help coordinate shipments of various commodities
better to ensure timely shipment at the most economic rate for the overall benefit of the
people and the local shipping, he added.
He attributed the flourishing of the Indian shipping on the much vital
governmental support which is absent in Pakistan. It is a fact that state-owned India
Shipping Corporation alone has an envious dead weight tonnage of 13 million tonnes as
compared to just 0.33 million dwt of PNSC and National Tanker Company. Combined DWT under
the private sector shipping in India adds up to another 10 million dwt.
Even Bangladesh which separated from Pakistan in 1971 has a merchant
marine fleet of 225,000 DWT in its state-owned Bangladesh Shipping Corporation which
serves the trade needs of a country whose population is three-fourth of that of Pakistan.
Baghpatee expressed concerns at the situation that no attempt has been
made by the government to introduce the new shipping policy, a legal cover through the
endorsement of the Parliament. The fact that the said policy and the incentives remain
good only on paper without enjoying any legal sanctity speaks volumes about the low
priority that the government gives to shipping, he added.
Baghpatee, whose three vessels, out of the total seven, registered in
Pakistan have been auctioned at the foreign ports where they stayed for long duration to
avoid arrest arising from non-payment of loans from local Allied Bank Limited, claimed
that his company was forced to go out of business by the vested interests who did not like
to see a Karachi-based company flourishing. "Had Tri-Star been a Punjab-based company
it would have not been meted out the treatment which it was accorded," he added.
Baghpatee expressed absolute pessimism when asked about what the future
holds for the local shipping. "Under present circumstances which include lack of
support on the part of the government, the inability of the local shipping lines of not to
get the cargo orders even if they are the lowest bidders, the aged fleet which has long
past its economic lives, the immense competition for freight in the international market
and the low freight rates worldwide, and the implementation of stricter IMO security codes
from next year, I see no future for the national shipping. No, I dont even see
Pakistani flagship vessels in the years to come," he added.
He said low freight rates worldwide pose many challenges for the
national shipping as the chartering rates have dropped by one-fourth during the last few
years from $ 21,000 per day to between $ 5000-6000 per day today. Over 50 per cent of
shipping companies today are posting losses due to slump in the international market but
what makes the scenario different is that unlike Pakistan, shipping sectors the world over
enjoys the support of their governments to lessen the blow, he added.
The developed countries imposed economic sanctions to punish Pakistan
for using its option to conduct a nuclear test on May 28 and 30 last year. Like all other
sectors it also had a detrimental impact on the seaborne foreign trade.
Not only the volume of both imports and exports decreased in 1998-99
but it also forced the foreign shipping companies, which carry the bulk of the national
seaborne cargo, to increase the freight charges by 15.5 per cent being the
remittance adjustment factor. The substantial increase in the freight charges
rendered the Pakistani exports incompetitive in the international market.
The introduction of dual exchange rate, which asked importers and
shipping companies to buy half of the foreign exchange at official rate and half from the
open market, provided the shipping companies with the opportunity at the higher open
market rate which was over 10 per cent more than the official rate. This also inflated the
prices of exports from the country to render them incompetitive in the international
The restriction to remit the funds to the principals, created problems
for the foreign shipping companies the ultimate price of which were borne by the importers
and exporters who have to absorb the increased shipping costs.
Just how the increased rates hurt the exporters is obvious from the
following examples: Shipping a 20-foot container to the US was increased by $ 230 per
container while that for a 40-foot container went up by $ 460 due to the increased freight
charges. Similarly, cost of shipping one tonne of rice to Sri Lanka went up by Rs 60 per
tonne as the shipping companies charged the exporters Rs 53 for each dollar instead of the
composite rate of Rs 50 which depicts 6 per cent difference.
SHIPPING POLICY- LACK OF IMPLEMENTATION
For the first time the shipping was accorded the status of an industry
in the Shipping Policy announced by the government last June. The government did not only
abolish duty on the import of ship but also removed any restrictions of the age and type
of the ship to encourage induction of fresh tonnage into the national maritime fleet.
However, there has been no induction of any new tonnage in the national
maritime fleet. Many attribute the lack of interest on the part of the private sector as
policies hardly ever materialize in the whole-hearted manner. In addition, the closure of
Tristar Shipping for whatever the reasons may be, is also blamed by many to shy away any
potential investors. The post-sanctions economic slump and the substantial decline in
trade, both imports and exports, is also one of the reasons for the failure of incentives
to attract any investment in the shipping sector particularly when the national flagship
companies are not accorded any cargo protection and preference.
SHIPBUILDING, SHIP REPAIR
The years of neglect have taken a heavy toll on the shipping in
Pakistan which is increasingly getting more and more dependent on foreign shipping
companies to cater to its seaborne trade needs. Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Works
Limited (KSEW) is the oldest heavy engineering unit and is fully equipped with
shipbuilding, ship repairing and heavy/general engineering works.
Established in 1957, the fully government-owned organization, has built
over 400 vessels of various types and sizes not only for the country but also for many
other nations in the region. It is fully equipped to build passenger and cargo ships, oil
tankers, bulk carriers of upto 26,000 dwt.
It has built three vessels for PNSC, m.v. Lalazar, m.v. Shalamar and
m.v. Islamabad, the biggest 17,200 dwt vessel. It built its last ship in 1992, a 17,300
dwt vessel,, named Youyi for China. It has also built a number of vessels for port
operations such as tugs, dregders, hopper barges, ferries, fishing trawlers, launches and
special purpose craft.
It has built ships not only for PNSC but also for such foreign
organizations as National Shipping Corporation of Dubai, China Ocean Shipping Corporation
and China National Machinery Corporation.
Apart from building port maintenance vessels for the Karachi Port
Trust, it has also built two dumb barges for Hasna Lines for the then West Germany which
were used in the Gulf region. Other export orders included two tugs for the UAE, two
propelled tugs for Saudi Arabia, four fishing trawlers and 19 vessels for the Iranian
Navy, two mini bulk carriers for China and six port operation vessels for a Belgian
In addition, KSEW has repaired over 4,000 vessels, half of which were
foreign flagships. Many navies and shipping lines have a regular customer of KSEW.
However, except for a number of orders from the Pakistan Navy which also uses its repair
services often the KSEW which in better times bustled with activities today stands more or
less idle as not only that it has received no orders of ship-building during the last
seven years but as the state-owned, PNSC prefers to have its ships repaired at the foreign
ports. Moreover, the Karachi Port and Port Qasim also prefer to give tenders for port
maintenance vessels to foreign companies.
The KSEW thus is not only deprived of its core ship-building activity
but also to receive orders for smaller port crafts by the Karachi Port Trust and Port
Qasim, the two national port maintenance authorities.
This has forced the KSEW to divert its attention from its core
activities to general engineering activities in the recent past. Over the years, the KSEW
has emerged as one of the few heavy machinery manufacturers of the country. It has
undertaken a wide variety of engineering and structural works for oil refineries, storage
installations and oil based industries as well as engineering workshops, and cement and
Since KSEW works under the ministry of defence, it enjoys the support
of the Dockyard of the Pakistan Navy in the designing, development and construction of
submarines and warships. This support from the Pakistan Navy in the form of joint venture
between the two organizations extend to designing, development of technical know-how,
commissioning/trials and indigenization in the construction of small warship and support
KSEW has been a partner in the construction of such vessels for the
Navy as mine counter measure vessel, fast petrol boat, missile craft, floating docks and
tugs. Its close liaison with the Navy has given it the capability to design and construct
various types of submarines, warships and naval support vessels to friendly countries in
collaboration with the navy. However, a big portion of KSEW facilities lay idle at present
due to lack of shipbuilding and repairing work.
Rear Admiral Javed Iftikhar, in response to a fax sent by PAGE, said
that there is not only complete absence of ship-building work but even the volume of ship
repair work load is much too low to offer any real relief to the organization.
As KSEWs three primary sources of revenue are ship-building, ship
repair and general engineering,, the absolute lack of the core ship-building activity over
the last ten-fifteen years has created immense financial problems for the KSEW, he added.
Asked if the incentives to the shipping industry last year have
benefited the KSEW in any way, he said, the very fact that the drastic reduction in number
of ships in the PNSC fleet proves that the sector is on a massive decline. There has been
no new ship-building order for the KSEW from PNSC in the last 17 years. PNSC acquired
three 11-13 years used container vessels for $ 50 million in 1996 even though KSEW has the
capacity to build similar new vessels for the same price. Unlike India, where even the
private shipping companies are required to place a ship-building order locally for every
ship they import, the KSEW enjoys no such governmental support, he added.
Asked if PNSC is providing KSEW with enough ship repairing and
dry-docking work, he told that for the last many years the PNSC has not given any
mentionable work. Asked if the KSEW is systematically discouraged to bid for works by the
Karachi Port Trust as well as the PNSC, the answer was a yes, however, no comments
could be obtained.
He expressed optimism that the government has recently set up a
committee with major representation of the ministry of communications which has been given
the task to ensure the new ship and craft building and repair works of the Karachi Port,
Port Qasim and the PNSC be awarded to the work-starved KSEW.
The national shipping is also unable to meet the growing demand for
containerized and bulk cargo as PNSCs fleet comprises of 12 break bulk vessels and
only three used container vessels. In the years the volume of containerized cargo is
expected to increase substantially. The global trend would not leave Pakistan untouched.
As is, about 67 per cent of all the cargo that could be containerized has actually been
containerized in Pakistan. Today, over 20 per cent or 7.7 million tonnes of the total
cargo; both imports and exports, liquid and dry, is containerized in the country. The
annual flow of the containerized cargo has already reached 550,000 TEUs, which with an
average load of 14 tonnes per container adds up to 7.7 million tonnes.
While this offers big business for the PNSC, it is lifting a small
portion of the total cargo due to limited number of container vessels in its fleet. Unless
it inducts more vessels the bulk of containerized cargo business would keep on going to
foreign shipping companies.
Years of neglect, absence of long-term policies and the
non-implementation of the ones which were ever devised, have taken a heavy toll on the
No fresh tonnage has been inducted in the PNSC during the last two
decades with the result that today its fleet comprises of vessels which are an average 18
years old costing it more and more money in repairs and maintenance to keep them running.
In addition, the imposition of stricter maritime security codes poses a
major challenge for the sole shipping company of Pakistan, the PNSC. With a fleet of aging
vessels most of which are in dilapidated state chances are that there will be no flagship
carriers in the years to come unless measures are taken to encourage investment in the
Over fourteen months have passed and yet there seems to be no urgency
on the part of policy makers to give a legislative cover to the Policy. In addition,
provisions should be made to ensure that the local shipping be accorded the preference and
protection which is imperative to attract investment. As discussed above, incentives alone
would not be enough.
Its time to exploit the real potential to make shipping the backbone of
the economy not only to save enormous foreign exchange but also to ensure smooth flow of
seaborne trade which only a dedicated national merchant marine could do in times of
peace or war.
PNSC FLEET AS ON JUNE 30,1998
S.No Name of Vessel Year of Built Dead Weight
1. m.v. Lalazar* 1985 13,346
2. m.v. Swat* 1983 14,355
3. m.v. Shalamar* 1983 14,170
4. m.v. Islamabad 1983 18,257
5. m.v. Khairpur 1981 16,414
6. m.v. Sibi 1981 16,436
7. m.v. Kaghan 1981 18,050
8. m.v. Ayubia 1981 18,050
9. m.v. Sargodha 1980 18,242
10. m.v. Malakand 1980 18,224
11. m.v. Multan 1980 18,257
12. m.v. Bolan 1980 18,144
13. m.v. Hyderabad 1980 18,257
14. m.v. Chitral 1980 18,144
15. m.v. Makran 1979 23,490
* Container vessels
In 1947 Pakistan inherited a fleet of four privately owned cargo ships.
In 1963, the National Shipping Ordinance was promulgated and National
Shipping Corporation (NSC) was established which procured its first used ship, m.v. Rupsa
in 1965. The national fleet comprised of some 53 vessels which were owned by 10 private
The national fleet strength grew to a record 71 vessels just prior to
the separation of East Pakistan and its emergence as Bangladesh in 1971. The fleet
strength declined to 57 vessels after the separation.
In 1974, nine private shipping companies, which had a total of 26
ships, were nationalized. The national fleet strength increased to 51 vessels including 26
with the nine nationalized companies plus 25 ships with the state-owned
In 1977, 14 ships were inducted in the PSC during the Fifth Five-Year
Plan. Two years later, NSC and PSC were merged to form the Pakistan National Shipping
Corporation (PNSC) which still remains the sole state-owned shipping corporation. The
total fleet strength increased to 60 ships with the induction of 14 vessels in late 1970s
and early 1980s.
Today, PNSCs entire fleet comprises 15 ships 12 break-bulk
vessels and three used container vessels purchased in 1996. Pakistan Tanker Company, a
subsidiary of PNSC also has a single tanker for crude oil imports.
PNSC enjoyed a complete monopoly till early 1990s when the shipping
sector was deregulated by the then Nawaz Sharif government.
Even the opening of the shipping sector to the private sector has
failed to achieve the desired results of helping induct more tonnage as Tristar Shipping
which started operations in 1992 went out business last year. Tristar owned cargo ships
the combined capacity of which added up to 310,000 DWT.
The chief executive and one of the directors of Tristar, Masood Tariq
Baghpatee and Mansoor Khalid Baghpatee were arrested in July last year on charge of
defrauding the Allied Bank of Pakistan of $ 10.85 million as they did not pay back loans
totalling Rs 440 million for the purchase of five vessels in 1994-95.
PNSCs aging fleet is carrying just about 5 per cent of the
national seaborne cargo while the rest is shared by the foreign shippers which cost the
country over $ 1.8 billion annually. While the freight rates have remained constant over
the last few years, not withholding the present low globally, the successive devaluation
of Pakistani currency nevertheless has put a tremendous strain on the national economy to
cater to its seaborne trade needs., which makes it a second top expenditure after