By Syed M. Aslam
Sep 15 - 21, 2003




ABDUL RASHID ABRO did Master in Arts from Sindh University and is a Master Marine by profession. He worked with the national flag carrier Pakistan National Shipping Corporation in various capacities taking over command in 1980 and sailed as Captain on many of its vessels till 1984. From 1984 to 1989, he worked with the PNSC as Port Captain and as Chartering Manager from 1989 to 1992. He handled more than 5 million tons of iron ore, coal, wheat and fertilizer during his tenure as Chartering Manager with the PNSC. He was also a member of Karachi Port Trust's Dock Labour Board during 1987-1989. Presently he is the chief executive of Transport Services International, a chartering and trading company, and is also the chairman of Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry's Standing Committee on Ports, Shipping, Maritime and Shipbuilding. He is also the Vice Chairman of Pakistan Ship Agent's Association.

PAGE: What lessons do the Tasman Spirit incident teach us?

CAPT. ABDUL RASHID: It teaches us the lesson that we never learn from our mistakes. Contrary to the popular belief, the worst oil spill off the Karachi coast last month was not the first incident of its kind. In fact, the Karachi Port Trust hushed up a similar incident on August 14 last year when a tanker named Golden Gate dumped 13,000 tons of crude oil in the Karachi channel in a desperate attempt to lessen its load to remain float. The vessel managed to get out and the KPT not only hushed up the matter but was also beneficent enough to let the vessel without paying any penalty for the mess that it had caused. You may remember media reports about dead fish washing up along the Clifton Beach in August last year. The hush up would have never been exposed had there been no Tasman Spirit necessitating the inquiry by a high level committee. That speaks the volume about how careless the KPT is about the public health and the environment. However, the highest authority in the country now knows about the disaster which went unreported till now.

PAGE: What you feel are the major weaknesses of Shipping in Pakistan?

CAPT. ABDUL RASHID: The failure to induct tonnage by the PNSC and the lack of interest on the part of the private sector to invest in the shipping sector have taken the shipping to a point where the PNSC is lifting just a fraction of the dry cargo and was wholly dependent on chartered vessels to carry the crude since December last year when its only Aframax type tanker m.v. Jauhar started undergoing repairs and dry-docking finally being sold for scrap in early June this year. The PNSC has acquired a tanker recently and has has announced to acquire another two in the next few months. At present, PNSC's fleet comprise 12 old bulk carriers plus one tanker inducted recently. The reasons for the failure of the Shipping Policy 2001 to attract the private investment should be analysed.



PAGE: Why the Shipping Policy announced two years ago have failed to attract the private sector investment in shipping?

CAPT. ABDUL RASHID: Without the private sector investment there is no hope for the revival of the shipping because it requires heavy capital investment which the struggling PNSC just doesn't has. However, I feel that the major obstacle to the private sector investment is a general lack of trust on the part of the investors who want a written commitment to have a share of the national cargoes, particularly crude oil imports. The PNSC enjoys the Right of First Refusal for both the dry and liquid cargo which is the major factor discouraging private sector investment in shipping. The failure to accord shipping, the status of a industry, at least in practice, is evident from the fact that the banks, despite enjoying massive liquidity today, are as reluctant as ever to give loans for shipping.

PAGE: What are other detriments for the development of shipping?

CAPT. ABDUL RASHID: Lack of regional trade in general and no trade at all with India also make shipping an unattractive option for the potential investors. Activation of SAARC as a robust trading block can give a great boost to Pakistani shipping but that has not been the case. Just what kind of a boost the activation of SAARC can give to the national shipping is obvious from the fact that over one-fifth of the world population live in the SAARC countries. Though poor, these countries have immense potential in human resources, know-how, big collective purchasing power, etc., etc.

PAGE: The federal government has issued a directive that imports for Afghanistan under the Afghan Transit Trade Agreement would now have to be off-loaded at the new port of Gwadar in the Afghanistan province. Is it workable?

CAPT. ABDUL RASHID: It is economically not viable for absence of economies of scale. Gwadar is 180 nautical miles farther away than Karachi making it highly unattractive for any shipping line to absorb the additional operating expenses for small volume of Afghan-bound cargoes. At present the Afghan-bound imports is handled at the Port Qasim which also handles the national cargoes. Asking the shipping companies to travel all the way to Gwadar to off-load Afghan-bound cargoes which make-up a small portion of its total load the bulk of which comprise national cargoes may force the shipping lines to stop lifting Afghan-bound cargoes altogether. Travelling such a long distance to unload such small volume of cargoes would be highly uneconomical for the shipping companies.