Pakistan is blessed with over 1000 km long coastline and its Maritime Zone including EEZ and Continental Shelf measuring 290,000 sq. km which can be tapped to propel growth of Blue Economy . Safety & Security Today sat down with Vice Admiral Shah Sohail Masood (Retd), Managing Director, Bahria Foundation to better understand the potential of Pakistan’s maritime sector and Bahria Foundation’s role in fulfilling it.
S&ST: Do you think Pakistan is currently fully utilizing its maritime potential?
Vice Admiral Shah Sohail Masood (Retd): Unfortunately, the real potential of Pakistan’s coastline, Maritime Zone including EEZ and Continental zone have drawn little attention from the public and private sector and therefore it has not been fully exploited to date. However, Bahria Foundation with the backing of Pakistan Navy is now progressing fast with the adaptation of the concept of blue economy and taking a leading role in its promotion; for sustainable growth and prosperity of Pakistan.
S&ST: What are some of the areas that have potential of growth in the maritime sector?
Although, China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has given impetus to maritime sector, yet there are a lot of avenues, which merit focused attention, especially the Indus region which has thick marine sedimentary source and reservoir rocks, which are positive indications of presence of hydrocarbon resources, similarly our Economic Zone include 4.125 million tonnes of manganese, 82,500 tonnes of copper, and 206,000 tonnes of nickel metal. The coastal areas and continental margin of the Arabian Sea also contain a wide variety of mineral deposits of Zirconium, Rutile and Ilmenite used in Nano, Infra and Optic technologies.
Then there is a dire need to reinvigorate the shipping industry in tandem with Shipbuilding and Repair and the Ports and Port Services in the private sector of Pakistan. Our national shipping fleet currently comprises of only 9 Commercial Ships (with no container carriers) and carries only about 16% of our total seaborne trade through the three existing ports, which is considered far less than the actual potential. Just imagine if only 10% of total external trade of China which is around US$3.5 trillion is diverted through CPEC then about US$350 billion worth of sea trade is expected to transit through our ports primarily Gwadar. Then there is a need to give value addition to products imported and then re-exporting them such as importing crude oil and after processing and refining, a variety of petroleum products can be exported. Just imagine the refined petroleum exports of India in 2016-17 constituted 10.6% of its total exports and value around US$26 billion which is more than the total exports of Pakistan.
Another avenue is the fish export which can be enhanced exponentially from US$0.3 billion to US$1 billion through aquaculture, adopting modern practices of fishing, processing and packaging, adequate training and provision of support facilities. Currently, we are able to export only 10% of the fish catch. Taking about coastal tourism, which is the largest market segment globally, representing 5% of world GDP and provides 6-7% of total employment. In almost 150 countries of the world, it is one of the top five earning industries. Pakistan has no comprehensive assessment of the potential of coastal and marine tourism. Apart from the Karachi coast, most part of the coastline is free from pollution and offers a pristine environment for tourists. Requisite road infrastructure is available to promote marine ecotourism, however, adequate services like restaurants, hotels and tourist resorts are still needed.
We also need to focus on water stress that we have started facing already. We need to quickly start incorporating solar desalination and Reverse Osmosis technologies to treat seawater. It is important to mention that with the completion of Gwadar Port, Gwadar city is all set to become a metropolis that will have a huge demand for freshwater and that can be an excellent opportunity for private sector investors. Then we have to seriously look into Alternate Energy Resources from Sea; currently, the contribution of alternative energy in overall energy mix of Pakistan is negligible. Pakistan has potential of energy with Coastal Winds (Sindh) and Tidal Currents (Indus Delta/Creeks). In addition, Pakistan’s maritime sector also has the potential in Maritime cargo and passenger ferry services, Inland water transportation and Green Ship Recycling (ship breaking).
S&ST: Compared to other regional countries how do you view Pakistan’s maritime sector?
Pakistan is blessed with over 1000 Km long coastline and Pakistan’s Maritime Zone including EEZ and Continental Shelf measuring 290,000 sq. km are larger than the combined area of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The skilled youth of Pakistan is currently facing the challenge of unemployment. The start of economic activities in the maritime sector along the coastline will augment the efforts being made by the present government for economic and social uplift of the local population in general and the population of Sindh and Baluchistan in particular.
It is to be noted that India has 46 shipyards and Bangladesh has 23, whereas Pakistan despite being ideally located at the northern shores of the Indian Ocean has only one shipyard which is grossly insufficient for contemporary needs. It is pertinent to mention that the shipbuilding industry is heavily dependent on downstream industries which range from high-tech to medium-tech equipment and low tech materials. The requirement is to strengthen our local industries to not only meet the needs of the local shipbuilding industry but for export purpose as well.
S&ST: What was the purpose behind establishment of Bahria Foundation?
Bahria Foundation was established in January 1982 by the Government of Pakistan as a Charitable Trust under the Endowment Act 1890 with a purpose to establish profitable businesses for welfare of serving and rehabilitation of retired personnel of Pakistan Navy and their dependents including families of martyrs.
S&ST: How has Bahria Foundation evolved over the years since its establishment in 1982?
Bahria Foundation, since its establishment, has achieved many milestones, may it be service to humanity in terms of education, training, environment, welfare programs or awareness programs. With a meager start from the city of Karachi, the Foundation is now operating across Pakistan in different sectors such as; Maritime, Education, Commercial and Estates. Bahria Foundation is now venturing into niche areas and now has for the first time successfully established a technical excellence hub of Pakistan in the shape of Bahria Classification Society (BCS), besides other major projects such as Bahria Dredging Co. Ltd (BDCL), Bahria Foundation LNG Terminal and Bahria Trans-Shipment Hub Pakistan.
S&ST: What are some of the focus areas of Bahria Foundation?
Bahria Foundation aims to be at the forefront of our expanding blue economy and is contributing in the education sector, large estate infrastructures, commercial and maritime businesses with the majority shares in the shape of projects like LNG Terminal, Bahria Transshipment Hub, Dredging Company and Classification Society to name a few of them.
S&ST: How is Bahria Foundation contributing towards the country’s economy?
Till date, Bahria Foundation has contributed to the country’s economy from a number of subsidiaries through four pillars of organization by providing employment to more than 10,000 personnel from various walks of life. Bahria Foundation is also acting as a catalyst to develop the maritime sector by boosting the country’s blue economy through emphasizing on the development of coastal infrastructure and associated projects.
S&ST: Tell us something about the Maritime Works Organization?
Maritime Works Organization (MWO) is one of the business pillars of Bahria Foundation, engaged in jump starting the maritime sector of Pakistan while capitalizing vast opportunities being offered along the coast with an aim to boost the blue economy through the establishment of:
- New commercial shipyards Port handling, port services, tugging etc.
- Commercial port construction, bulk terminals
- Dredging of harbors
- Transshipment hub
- Passenger ferry services
- Green ship recycling yard
- Oil refineries and export of surplus
- Maritime tourism
- Offshore exploration
S&ST: What role is Bahria Foundation playing in helping Pakistan make use of its maritime potential?
Bahria Foundation is creating much needed awareness in country’s business community, investor groups and government institutions to attract and unlock the foreign and local investment opportunities within maritime sector. Pakistan Navy is providing the much needed guidance and impetus for the maritime sector and Bahria Foundation has been tasked to spearhead the activities.
S&ST: Gwadar has been billed as the next big thing for the best part of the last two decades. How do you see the future of Gwadar?
To fully comprehend the potential and significance of Pakistan in general and Gwadar in particular, it is important to understand dynamics of great power relations, the transition in global balance of power that is taking place from West to East and Pakistan’s position as a global pivot state of the 21st century. Gwadar has the potential to connect the world’s largest markets with the world’s leading energy producers and manufacturers. With the completion of CPEC it will act as a bridge between China, Central Asia, South Asia and the Middle East. In other words, it will connect the “Heartland” with the rest of the world through the warm waters of the Arabian Sea.
S&ST: What advice do you have for the government when it comes to developing the maritime sector and blue economy?
The government has realized the importance of the maritime sector and has established the Ministry of Maritime Affairs which is a step in the right direction. We need to strengthen that and also establish a “Maritime Authority” with experts from all areas related to maritime to guide and coordinate efforts in the right direction. In addition, there should be centers of excellence specializing in every area related to the maritime sector to provide research based technical, operational and strategic input to the policy makers.