At any given time some 45,000 merchant ships are
moving around the world's sea lanes across hundreds of thousands of
coastal jurisdictions through the international waters. According to the
International Shipping Federation (ISF) around 5,000 million tons of
cargo was shipped over a distance of about 4.6 million miles in 2000.
Pakistan is gifted with 560-mile-long coastline and
yet it has failed to reap the benefits that it should have derived from
being a maritime nation. The proximity to the sea and enormous benefits
that it offers to the economy, however, has never been exploited to its
fullest as shipping has never seen fit by the policy makers to accord
the priority that it deserved. Shipping plays an insignificant role
sector in the national economy and the dependence on foreign shipping
lines have only increased over the years costing the exchequers money
second only to defence. The dependence has also provided foreign
shipping lines to increase the freight charges at will at one pretext or
the other, particularly in the post 9/11 world.
Today the fleet of state-owned Pakistan National
Shipping Corporation, the only national flag carrier, comprises just 14
vessels: 9 combi, feeder containers (of the 3 acquired in 1996 one has
also been sold) and 3 crude oil tankers: all of whom are old and long
past their economic and commercial lives.
The used tankers were inducted into the PNSC fleet
only two months ago and at a time when the future of single-hull tankers
remains highly uncertain. Single-hull tankers may be banned by global
shipping watchdog International Maritime Organisation (IMO) at its
meeting scheduled in the third week of next month in Britain. The
country was totally dependent on chartered vessels for its crude oil
shipments for a full 9 months until September because PNSC had no
vessel: the only tanker owned by PNSC, m.t. Jauhar, was sold for scrap
at Guanzhou port in China on June 12 this year after undergoing
expensive, and extensive, repairs and dry-docking since early December
last year. A PNSC subsidiary Shalamar Shipping (Private) Limited
announced the induction of the 22-year-old Aframa type tanker in
September only after Tasman Spirit, a veseel chartered by the then
tankerless Corporation, ran aground to cause the worst environment
catastrophe off the coast of Karachi.
According to informed sources in the shipping circle,
the IMO is expected to come up with stringent laws to ensure safer
merchant marine operations and may ban single-hull tankers way ahead of
the 2007 deadline due to increased oil spills across the globe including
the recent one off the Karachi coast.
However, the sources told PAGE that the ban
doesn't necessary mean that the single-hull containers acquired by the
PNSC would be affected by any such ban even if the IMO decides to go
ahead with it next month. "First of all, the developing and the
poor members of the IMO, which has 146 members (all members of the
United Nations are also the members of IMO), are expected to strongly
resist any such ban because they just could not afford to replace their
fleet. Secondly, even if the IMO chooses to go ahead with the ban it
would give its member nations certain time to implement the decision
which can be as long as one year. Thirdly, even if the ban will be
enforced it would most probably mean that the single-hull tankers would
not be allowed to enter the ports of the developed countries.
"It would be like saying that while we could not
force you to stop sitting naked in your home we would not allow you to
come to our home without clothes. The fact that Pakistan's crude oil run
is restricted to the Middle East would make it possible for the
operator, which in this case is the PNSC, to keep plying the trade
without any repercussions from the IMO."
The PNSC enjoy a 10-year exclusive contract for the
import of crude oil for the 3 national refineries. This is how the
corporation, which had only one depleted tanker then, was gradually
awarded the exclusive contract. In April 2001, the Cabinet Committee on
Ports and Shipping Wing awarded the First Right of Refusal to the PNSC
in April 2001. On October 7, 2002 a case was presented to the Economic
Coordination Committee for the awarding of a 10-year crude oil shipment
contract to the PNSC. Sixteen days later on October 23; Pakistan
Refinery Limited, National Refinery Limited and PARCO were directed by
the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources to sign a 10-year
contract with the PNSC. The PNSC was awarded the contract at rates way
above the market rates.
Observers say that the PNSC is being kept afloat by
allowed to charge excessive rates the ultimate price of which is paid by
the people through high petroleum, diesel and kerosene prices.
According to the unaudited financial report of the
PNSC for the first quarter ended September 30, the operating profit
increased by Rs 263 million to Rs 454 million over the comparatively
period last year. The pre-tax profit also depicted a healthy increase of
Rs 94 million to Rs 324 million. While its heartening to see PNSC better
its performance the fact remains that it was made possible by indirectly
subsidising the Corporation at the cost of burdening the people with
high prices of petroleum and products.
Can Tasman Spirit happen again? Yes it would unless
the related maritime departments closely inspect and monitor the vessels
calling at the national ports — because over 70 per cent of the ships
calling at the ports of Karachi are flying Flag of Convenience, which
allows easy registration with least concerns for laws making it easy to
avoid accountability in case of a mishap.