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Karachi-
Gwadar
-Gulf ferry service

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Operation delayed despite issuance of licences to six applicants

FERRY TO SAIL BETWEEN KARACHI-GWADAR-ARAB
COUNTRIES

By AMANULLAH BASHAR
Oct 04 - 10, 1999

The Federal Government has granted permission to six parties in the private sector to operate ferry service exclusively for passengers between Karachi, Gwadar and Gulf countries.

Sources in Port & Shipping Department told PAGE that the permission to operate ferry was given to six applicants in March last however none of them has come out with a definite schedule for launching the service despite a lapse of over six months. Prior to the approval of the proposal, the interested parties were persuading the Ministry of Communication to get their project approved however after the job was done on the part of the government they have gone to a deep sleep, sources remarked.

It seems that relevant parties are reluctant to go into operation especially due to bitter experience the private sector had to go through during 1992. At that time the government had issued licences to 40 shipping companies in the private sector. The decision to induct private sector into shipping industry was taken to reinforce the weakened strength of Pakistan National Shipping Corporation (PNSC). Unfortunately the attempt to bring in the private sector into shipping industry proved to be a futile exercise mainly because of the complexities of our bureaucratic system. Out of the 40 licencees three had purchased ships. Two of the ships purchased by one company were confiscated by the customs authorities because the said party had brought them into Pakistan prior to the issuance of the relevant SRO. The importer was insisting on concessional import duty allowed by the government to the 40 new licencees while the customs were stick to the old customs rules. Another company which had gone into a purchase deal with a foreign company could not make payments due to freezing of foreign currency accounts after May 28, 1998 and had to abandon the scheme.

This gave a bad taste to the whole situation. Another shipping company namely Tristar Shipping had started ocean going operations through a fleet of 6 vessels. Whatever the reasons may be the Tristar also proved a big flop which thoroughly discouraged others to come into the business. Consequently the other 37 licencees placed their projects into the cold storage.

Another important factor stopping the permission holders to start Karachi-Gwadar-Gulf countries ferry service is most probably the doubtful commercial viability of the project. Beside that frequent air services are also available on the proposed route which consume lesser time as compared to travel by sea.

INDIA

Informed sources disclosed that private sector was more interested in launching ferry service between Karachi and Bombay due to availability of plenty of traffic on this route. Some efforts in this direction were also made through the SAARC platform. However due to visa restrictions put up by Indian government, there are remote chances for materializing of this project also.

SHIPPERS COUNCIL

Shaikh Jawed Chairman of Shippers Council at the Export Processing Zone Karachi was however optimistic about the commercial viability of the proposed ferry service. He was of the view that the permission holders are mistaken if they are reluctant to go into operation due to doubtful commercial viability of this sector.

"The secure and strategic location of the deep drafted natural coast of Gwadar with close vicinity to the Arabian countries distinguish it from rest of the ports in Pakistan," Shaikh Jawed observed. It is going to be the most outstanding port of Pakistan in the next Millennium" he remarked. The present government has already announced development programme for Gwadar port. Once the infrastructure facilities are provided it should be the centre of attraction especially for the business community. Keeping its strategic location in mind it should be placed on top of the list for development of export processing zones in Pakistan. He said that instead of spending time and money for the development of different zones in the upcountry, the government should give priority to the development of Gwadar port accompanied by export processing zone. The business community specially at Karachi is fed up with uncontrolled pollution, law and order and other hazards persisting for over a decade. The attractive business venue at Gwadar would be a great attraction for the businessmen he observed.

The proposed ferry service, being the cheapest source of travel, would not only facilitate the regular traffic but would create a lot of tourism business on this route. It would emerge as the most attractive voyage for the people who like to go on pleasure trips within the country as well as visitors from abroad.

If the local parties are reluctant to go on with their ferries, a lot of foreign investment can easily be available which can be tried just by throwing tenders in media locally and abroad, Sheikh Jawed said with confidence.