World Maritime Day and Seafarers of Pakistan


For public awareness about maritime sector, especially to highlight the contribution of maritime industry in the advancement of the economy, latest development, problems being faced, importance of shipping safety, maritime security and the marine environment, the UN in collaboration with International Maritime Organization (IMO) celebrates World Maritime Day annually in the last week of September since 1978. Every year emphasis is on the particular aspect as suggested by IMO; this year theme is “Seafarers: At the Core of Shipping’s Future”. The maritime power of a state, is an important constituent of its national power. It is determined not only by the weapons and armed forces with which it can affect events at sea but also by its merchant fleet and associated industries, fishing fleets and linked supply chain, ports and harbors, geographical position, physical conformation, maritime outlook & tradition and national character of the government. It has been observed that maritime nations like, UK, France, Greece, Spain, Holland, and Japan etc. by exploiting maritime constituents especially sea going vessels, have not only improved their economy to provide better quality of life to their citizens but also had a number of colonies to rule and get the raw material and cheaper manpower for their industries. Seafarers are the front line individuals responsible for operation and maintenance of sea going vessels whether qualified in nautical or engineering disciplines.  Their life is very tough because at sea you only see few faces of the crew of the ship and water all around but responsibility is tremendous. The safety of the ships carrying huge oil, containers, bulk cargo and men onboard from collisions, grounding and fire onboard is their primary responsibility. The common challenges onboard are homesickness, seasickness, followed by fatigue and family issues. During rough weather the life becomes even more hard because of abnormal rolling and pitching of the vessel.  A few years before famous saying “Join the Merchant Navy and Sea the World” was very valid but now a day the turnaround of a ship in harbor is a few hours which used to be few days. Therefore, seafarers can see only the port of call.  This year, their recognition is more deserved than ever before on account of the COVID-19 pandemic which has presented many challenges to them. International travel restrictions, lack of shore leave and crew changes are just some of the difficulties which have afflicted seafarers due to this unprecedented situation.

The worldwide strength of seafarers serving on internationally trading merchant ships is estimated plus1.6 million, of which 0.77million are officers and 0. 87million are ratings.  Philippines was the largest contributor of seafarers in world, but now China has overtaken. There are about 8,000 officers and 10,500 ratings duly registered as seamen in Pakistan. Out of this about 30% are employed on national and foreign ships. About 100 cadets after two years training in Pakistan Marine Academy, pass out every year, but hardly 25 % get the job. Mainly less vacancies on ships especially Pakistani owned.  It is pertinent to mention that crew of a ship whether small or large is almost same which is about 25 including officers and ratings. In 1980s the ships were much smaller about 15,000 DWT, and more in number as compared to these days; an average ship is around 150,000, DWT. Therefore, almost 100 % cadets used to get the jobs in those days.  Pakistan needs to study the model being followed by Philippines and China to arrange more sea billets for the seafarers. Main difficulties to get the job is getting visa for the country for crew change over. Up till late1990s a seafarer needed only Continuous Discharge Certificate (CDC) issued by Mercantile Marine Department of Pakistan(MMD) and “OK to board certificate” by the shipping agent. Now a day the seafarer should have Seamen Service Book(SSB), and passport with visa endorsed of the country. Most of European, USA, Australia, Japan etc. are reluctant to issue visa or the procedure is cumbersome, therefore Shipping Lines are reluctant to hire Pakistani seafarers. The Ministry of Maritime Affairs in coordination with Ministry of Foreign Affairs is required to sort out this issue to facilitate seafarers to get the jobs. It is pertinent to mention that Pakistan trained seafarers are equally competent with any other advanced country. The Marine Academy should make efforts to attract foreign trainees; at the same time foreign ship owners may be invited to brief about the training to facilitate cadets to get the jobs.    

In early 2019, Greece remained the largest owner country with a share of 20.4 % in terms of DWT, now followed by China (14.5 %) and Japan (13.0 %). According to IHS Markit, in March 2017, Panama a small country in size had 8,052 ships on its registry, Singapore 3,574, Liberia 3,277, the Marshall Islands 3,244, and Hong Kong 2,594. Most of these ships have been registered as flag of convenience. Pakistan has 11 registered ships owned by Pakistan National Shipping Corporation (PNSC) with 831,711 DWT which carry less than 10% of the cargo of Pakistan whereas there is provision to lift plus 40 %. The current PNSC shipping fleet is considered insufficient to carry cargo of Pakistan particularly LNG, edible oil, other chemicals and containers. Presently about $ 3 billion is being paid to foreign shipping for import / export. A considerable number of ships owned by Pakistani business men are registered in other countries under the provision of flag of convenience. The government may review policy to give more incentives to the business community to register ships in Pakistan. It will facilitate operation during tension period and hostilities in addition to creation of jobs for seafarers.

Dr. Anjum Sarfraz
Dr. Anjum Sarfraz
the author is Cdre (retd) former Senior Research Fellow, at NIMA And SVI Islamabad


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