An exclusive interview with Aga Faquir Mohammad, Advocate Supreme Court of Pakistan
Aga Faquir Mohammad, Advocate Supreme Court and founder trustee of Pakistan Legal Awareness Trust has deplored the statement made by Maritime Minister Ali Zaidi that he has exempted the Seamen from NOC to board foreign flag vessels. This was said by the Minister in a press conference addressed on 9th November in Karachi.
According to Aga Faquir Mohammad statements made by the Minister of Maritime Affairs are exercises in futile. If a seafarer has in his possession Machine Readable-Seafarers Identity Document (MR-SID) he does not require any visa for signing-on and serving on board a foreign flag vessel. All over the world the member states of International Labour Organization (ILO) are fully acting upon ILO Convention No: 185 but in our country, bureaucracy is manipulating differently; as the Minister says that seafarers must have a valid passport and visa along with SID Card.
Aga Faquir Mohammad has rich experience in shipping & maritime, commercial and international trade, admiralty, corporate, civil litigation, banking and insurance law. He is the author of various published articles and books on maritime law including Modes of Exercise of Admiralty Jurisdiction, Maritime and Shipping Dictionary, Admiralty Law in Pakistan and Hindrances in the employment of Pakistani seafarers on foreign flag vessels.
In his exclusive interview Aga informed that Pakistan as a member of International Labour Organization (ILO) has ratified ILO Convention No: 185 – Seafarers’ Identity Documents Convention 2003 enforced 9th February, 2005. Under ILO Convention – 185, each member for whom this Convention is enforced shall issue to each of its nationals who is a seafarer a Seafarers Identity Document (SID). ILO Convention -185 provides a standardized framework to member states for issuing SID and to incorporate the biometric technology to ensure fool proof authentication of a bonafide seafarer for safe and secure environment. SID under Convention No: 185 is globally acceptable identification procedure allowing seafarers to move easily across state boundaries to join a ship, shore leave, transit, transfer and repatriation during the course of their jobs without having to apply for visa or any No-Objection Certificate (NOC) from any authority of the Member State. Records related to each SID issued, suspended or withdrawn is to be stored in National electronic database maintained by the member states.
Every country has the power to exercise authority on all persons, entities and things within their territories that is called Jurisdiction. Pakistani Jurisdiction is on all Pakistani ships wherever they may be and on foreign ships when such ships are within territorial waters of Pakistan. Merchant Shipping Act, 1923 was enforced in Pakistan when Pakistan came into existence. It was replaced by Merchant Shipping Ordinance, 2001, applicable to Pakistani ships only. The Pakistan Article of Agreement is applicable to the Pakistani ships; it is not applicable on foreign flag ships. A Pakistani seafarer in order to join foreign flag ship has to sign the employment contract of the country to which the foreign ship belongs.
Replying to various queries Aga Faquir Mohammad stated that Pakistani seafarers going abroad for employment on foreign flag ship does not require to sign-on Pakistan Article of Agreement. The seafarer has to sign-on the Article of Agreement of foreign flag ship and he can join the ship on SID. He does not require approaching the Shipping Master in Pakistan or any government office in Pakistan. He has to go to airport where the facilitator / manning agent licensed under section 119 of the Merchant Shipping Ordinance, 2001 will assist the seafarer in completing formalities relating to immigration. The seafarer does not require any NOC from the Shipping Master of Pakistan to join the foreign flag ship.
On the basis of SID Card, Pakistani seafarer can be transferred, get shore leave and enjoy all other facilities that are provided to seafarers of other countries while on board foreign flag ship. After completion of contract of the foreign flag ship, Master of that ship will sign-off the seafarer on Seaman Service Book (SSB). On the SSB nobody is allowed to write except Master of the ship. Pakistani seafarer does not require visiting shipping office after signing-off and returning to Pakistan.
Due to non-implementation of International Conventions relating to maritime, there are illegal, criminal and fraudulent practices of signing-on Pakistan Article of Agreement being done before Shipping Master in Government Shipping Office of Pakistan. An example of such illegal, criminal and fraudulent acts of Shipping Master is the case of Ayub Baloch, senior most Chief Engineer of Pakistan who in order to join foreign flag ship (name of the vessel M.T. Athina II, MON ROVIO) on which he got employment, was made to sign-on Pakistani Article of Agreement before the Shipping Master under the name of M.T. Dawn I, a foreign ship laid off in UAE for scrap. Such fraudulent and criminal activities of Government Shipping Office are main reason behind decline of employment of Pakistani seafarers on foreign flag ships.
The PTI government must take serious view on employment issue of Pakistani seafarers. If Government of Pakistan implements International Conventions in letter and spirit it will increase foreign exchange for Pakistan. One of the examples of improved economies of a country solely because of shipping revival is Bangladesh who strictly followed these conditions and result is that its economy has grown remarkably due to inflow of foreign exchange and its currency is far better than us by conversion of 80 taka for one US dollar.
Replying to a question about shipping trade Aga Faquir Mohammad stated that international maritime conventions are the only private international laws applicable in maritime service industry. It is a diverse field having its own terminology, language and expertise. It requires a full-time Secretary who is well versed with the subject and latest developments in the maritime service industry. At present the PNSC Chairman is also Secretary Maritime Affairs because the Prime Minister Secretariat has not yet appointed Secretary Maritime Affairs.
Aga Faquir Mohammad suggested that Prime Minister Secretariat should precede the documents for appointment of Maritime Secretary to the Prime Minister having comprehensive knowledge of the maritime service industry. In present circumstances foreign investors in shipping are hesitating to have their ships under Pakistan flag. As a result of foreign investment in the shipping industry, India and Bangladesh have 100 and 60 ships registered respectively under their flag. While in Pakistan not a single ship is registered under Pakistani flag by any foreign investor. Shipping industry is the only industry which has the potential to reduce US dollar exchange rate to PKR 80 or even less within a year.
By highlighting the problems being faced by local shipping industry, Aga Faquir Mohammad disclosed that International Maritime Organization (IMO) has made it mandatory for the member states to audit which is to be conducted in February-March 2020.
He informed that Government Maritime Surveyors are appointed by notification in the official gazette under section 4 of the Merchant Shipping Ordinance, 2001. Presently, no maritime surveyor has been appointed by Federal Government through proper channel. The Registrar of ships and the Chief Nautical Surveyor is a pilot of Port Qasim on deputation. The IMO while auditing may take serious view of such violations.
The senior lawyer stated that the approach of Federal Government towards seafarers is disappointing. Qualified merchant navy officers appointed by PNSC are under-paid and employed on contract basis. They are dismissed from employment against service rules of PNSC. The PNSC employees, therefore, resign whenever they get opportunity of getting well paid jobs abroad. This is alarming situation; our ports are also short of pilots due to low salaries.
He further stated that the government should properly implement all international maritime conventions. Appointments must be made on merit and permanent basis they should be paid according to ILO Convention. Then competitive persons may prefer to work in Pakistan instead of going abroad. But if current situation continues PNSC ships may have to employ foreign seafarers for manning of Pakistani ships.
To another question the veteran lawyer informed that Maritime Labor Convention (MLC) 2006 has been ratified by 85% of the port states of the world and Pakistan is one of the few countries who have not yet ratified MLC, 2006.
It may be mentioned here that salaries being paid by PNSC to its seafarers are not even half of the wages being paid by other countries. In shipping industry, the office staffs are small in numbers as compared to office staff of PNSC. The staff members of some of the shipping companies having more than 50 ships in their fleet, have at best 100-200 shore staff in contrast to PNSC which has more than 700 shore staff.
To a question on the announcement of Minister of Maritime Affairs, giving e-mail ID and WhatsApp links to register public complaints against corruption, Aga Faquir Mohammad replied that Prime Minister has also taken notice of the inaction of the officers regarding Complaints lodged on the Citizen’s Portal and has directed all ministries and departments to form five members committee to perform evaluation and submit report within fifteen days. By Constitutional Petition No: D-7304 of 2018 in the High Court of Sindh against Federal Government the Petitioner has submitted concluding evidence of corruption in the Shipping Office. The Shipping Master signed-on various cadets through manning agents and such seafarers and cadets were immigrated on board foreign flag ship on the basis of tourist visa to Sri Lanka where they were detained and deported. This was entered and stamped on their seaman service book (SSB) by the Immigration Authorities of Sri Lanka. No investigation was made by the Ministry of Maritime Affairs on such illegal fraudulent sign-on by the Shipping Master and against the Manning Agents. This case should have been investigated through FIA by the Ministry of Maritime Affairs, Aga Faquir Mohammad concluded.