SHEIKH MUHAMMAD IQBAL
was elected the general secretary of Pakistan Merchant Navy Officers
Association (PMNOA) in 1974 and still remains its elected head. The
Association, the representative body of merchant marine officers, was
established in 1951 to promote merchant marine activities and protect
the legitimate interests of national merchant navy officers. Iqbal's
professional career, dates back to 1963, when he stood first in an all
Pakistan open competition and was selected as an apprentice marine
engineer to join Karachi Port Trust. Four years later, he stood first
class first in all the examinations conducted apprenticeship earning a
trophy from the government. He joined merchant marine and has served in
many capacities — rising from junior engineer to chief on national as
well as foreign shipping companies. He served as chief engineer since
1972 but resigned from then Pakistan Shipping Company as chief engineer
due to what he calls 'corrupt practices in the national fleet'. Between
1975 and 1983, he worked as chief engineer for a number of foreign
national shipping companies including Iran and Malaysia. He has also
served as a, Asia/Pacific Seafarers member of the International
Transport Workers Federation (ITF), on the Regional Committee of
Asia/Pacific Seafarers and Asia Pacific Regional Committee of the ITF.
In addition to the PMNOA he is also a member of the steering committee
of the Norwegian Asian Seafarers Association.
once had a sizeable merchant navy fleet. What can explain the malaise?
It can be attributed to single factor — induction of non-professionals
in shipping and all other related sector. In 1970, the fleet strength of
national marine fleet stood at record 71 ships and the national shipping
was able to absorb the bulk of some 2,200 merchant navy officers then.
The remaining professionals were able to land readily available jobs on
British, Singaporean, Iranian, Algerian, Norwegian, Malaysian, Sri
Lankan (then Ceylon) and other national and private shipping companies
impact did nationalization had on the shipping industry?
In 1974, shipping was nationalized and Pakistan Shipping Corporation (PSC)
was established in addition to public sector National Shipping
Corporation (NSC) which already existed. Prior to the nationalization
there were 9 private shipping companies in the country. The NSC had 25
ships while the then newly formed PSC had 26 ships including vessels
belonging to 9 private shipping companies nationalized. The total fleet
strength in 1974 stood at 51 ships. But this was just the beginning of
the mess we are in today.
In 1979, the PSC and NSC were merged to form what is today called the
PNSC. At that time the strength of national merchant marine fleet stood
at 43 and under the 5th Five-year plan 19 ships were to be procured.
However, only 14 ships were actually inducted while the other 5 planned
were never inducted. No ships were inducted into the national maritime
fleet in the subsequent Five-year plan and no funding has been allocated
even in Private Sector Development Plan. Shipping remained a neglected
sector worthy of no consideration on the part of successive governments.
the situation today?
The failure to induct new tonnage and the overall indifference has taken
a heavy toll on Pakistani shipping industry to a point where it could
hardly be called an industry. The fleet strength has been reduced to
just 13 ships all with the sole national flag carrier, the PNSC. The
ships have long past their economic lives and the average age of them is
22 years. Almost all of them would have to be scrap in next three years
at the maximum. The PNSC is lifting a negligible percentage of the
national cargoes and the country has to pay billions of dollars to
foreign shipping companies to conduct its foreign trade.
stricter visa and travel restrictions imposed by the US, European and
other countries have closed doors for the employment for Pakistani
seafarers overseas. What the future looks like for the national
SHEIKH IQBAL: A
forecast made by BIMCO (Baltic International Maritime Committee, a
global shipping think-tank), say the international demand for merchant
navy officers would increase by the year 2010. While BIMCO forecasts the
increased demand for merchant navy officers it also predicts that there
would be a global surplus of 224,000 of the seamen during the same
period. This highlights the need of producing officers and not seamen in
the years to come.
The post 9/11 world has already cost jobs to thousands
of Pakistani seafarers working on foreign flag carriers and yet there
has been a mushroom growth of institutions offering all kinds of
maritime training which offer no employment prospects within as well as
outside the country. Even in the prevalent situation these institutions
are providing outdated training to keep on producing seaman which would
be in surplus in the time to come. The government should take
appropriate measures to check the excesses of these mushrooming
institutions in the greater national interest to stop the hopefuls waste
immense amounts of money for a training which would offer them no job