Tuesday April 23, 2024

Maritime ministry can’t help unregistered sailors: Zaidi

By Faraz Khan & Javed Mirza
March 29, 2021

KARACHI: The fate of six Pakistanis, stranded on a tug boat, Mehr, adrift somewhere in the Red Sea for over 20 days, continues to hang in the balance, as the Ministry of Maritime Affairs feels unable to help the unregistered sailors and the Tanzanian flag bearing tug’s owner has not turned up to their rescue.

The issue, besides underscoring a serious human crisis, has also brought to fore the role of fraudulent agents taking advantage of seafarers desperate to join a ship to eke out a living. “They are unregistered sailors. The ministry can’t help when people illegally slip out of the country to board boats in the international waters,” Minister for Maritime Affairs Ali Zaidi told The News. “I have no idea when would they return,” the minister said.

Six Pakistani nationals, the crew of a tugboat, are stranded in the Red Sea after its engines broke down while travelling from Oman to Egypt. The maritime ministry acted promptly by sending PNSC’s MT Khairpur to provide them provisions (rice, flour, spices, meat, chicken, biscuits, pulses), mineral water and medicines.

Their freshwater storage tank was very dirty which they cleaned and refilled with fresh water for their domestic use. According to the summary of a report provided by Maritime Affairs Minister Ali Zaidi, the crew of the tugboat Mehr did not want to leave the vessel as their eight-month salaries remain unpaid.

According to the ministry official, not all seafarers are able to board ships due to an imbalance in their demand and supply. “Some fraudulent agents take advantage of this to exploit the seafarers desperate to work on a ship.” Every year, a number of seafarers join merchant shipping through unregistered crewing agencies. “Such agencies leave the seafarers exposed to a host of serious hazards – vessels are abandoned in the international waters, unpaid wages, unaccounted for sea time, sometime prison terms also for working on board ships carrying illegal cargo." The official said all these difficulties not only affect the seafarers themselves but also put their families into turmoil.

Federal Minister Zaidi said the owner of the tugboat “had undertaken to rescue the crew in a few days". However, despite passage of over 20 days, the crew remains at the mercy of the sea, literally caught up with the devil in the deep blue sea.

Ansar Burney, the renowned human rights activist who highlighted their plight, said the crew remains adrift somewhere in the Red Sea. He feared the situation could turn precarious for the tug crew as without functioning engines, there can be an accident or even the pirates can hold them hostage. Burney said since it is a humanitarian issue concerning their lives, they should be rescued first and later the issue of illegalities committed on part of the crew, the respective agent or any relevant department be addressed. "Some emergent action needs to be taken to resolve the issue, before God forbid, some disaster strikes the crew," he said. “Law must take its course, but since the lives of six Pakistanis are at stake, they must be protected foremost.”

Being Pakistani nationals, it is incumbent upon the government to view the issue with empathy and compassion, save them and once they are back in the country, they must be thoroughly investigated and if they, or others, are found guilty, they must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of law to prevent this kind of human trafficking from happening in future.