The Ministry of Maritime Affairs (MoMA) has once again attempted to assault merchant mariners and trap them under bureaucratic jugglery against which they were struggling since many decades.
According to details Asif Haroon, Director Shipping, Ministry of Maritime Affairs (Ports and Shipping Wing) Karachi has issued a Circular-03/2020 dated 30th January 2020 on the Subject of Seafarer Supply and Discharge Proforma Documents to all Registered Manning Agencies.
In this circular the Director of Shipping stated; “Apropos to this office Circular No. 7(11)/98-Sh.II (Vol.II) dated 24th December 2019, the Competent Authority has approved the attached two (02) proforma documents for supply and discharge of seafarer(s), respectively.”
The circular further stated that all Registered Manning Agents shall enter complete details as per attached proforma documents for the assignments of seafarer(s) who have been engaged/supplied without entering into “Pakistan Article of Agreement” and furnish the same to the Government Shipping Office along with documents prescribed in the two proforma within seven (07) days of departure and repatriation of such seafarer(s) from and to Pakistan.
While commenting on this Circular Aga Zubair Ahmed Advocate, a prominent maritime lawyer expressed his legal opinion that Circulars are issued on behalf of the Ministry to provide mere administrative guidelines and have no legal effect. On the other hand the Circular No: 03 of 2020 does not disclose who is the competent authority and under what authority; the said circular has been issued.
The Pakistani seafarers having required qualifications can serve on a foreign flag ship by signing-on Foreign Article of Agreement/Contract of Employment. They neither have to sign-on Pakistan Article of Agreement nor they have to obtain any NOC from Government Shipping Office to board an aircraft for the purpose of joining foreign flag ship on valid SID issued to seafarers under ILO Convention – 185.
Similarly, the Federal Government by way of notifications in the official Gazette may make rules, regulations or notifications for implementation of the provisions of Merchant Shipping Ordinance, 2001. Issuance of such Circular by the competent authority is not in accordance with law, Zubair Ahmed said.
He further stated that a Pakistani seaman serving on board a foreign flag ship outside the jurisdiction of Pakistan has to sign on Article of Agreement/Contract of Employment of that foreign flag ship. Pakistani seafarers are free to sign-on Article of Agreement/Contract of Employment of a foreign flag ship without having any contact with the Government Shipping Office.
He disclosed that Manning Agent is licensed by the Federal Government under section 119 of the Merchant Shipping Ordinance, 2001 (MSO, 2001) which is reproduced hereunder:
Section 119 – Manning agent
- No person shall act in Pakistan as a manning agent unless it is a company licensed as a manning agent with the Federal Government.
- The Federal Government may, by notification in the official gazette make rules specifying conditions of the manning agents.
Aga Zubair said the manning agent is engaged by the owners and masters of Pakistani ships as well as foreign flag ships. They are not the agents of any ship-owner as defined under section 182 of the Contract Act, 1872. Manning agents only facilitate ship-owners to enter into a contract of employment with Pakistani seafarers and provide necessary facilities to seafarers for joining the ship. Manning agent license is issued by the Federal Government under ILO Convention (No: 179) concerning placement of seafarers (case reported as United Marine Trade Agencies versus EOBI 2005 PLC 176).
Pakistan has jurisdiction on all Pakistani ships, wherever they may be, as well as on foreign ships when such ships are within the territorial jurisdiction of Pakistan. Pursuant to Article 94 of the United Nation Convention on Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS), flag states have jurisdiction over the ships sailing under their flags and have exclusive jurisdiction over maritime labour conditions.
Section 127 of the MSO, 2001 states that the master, owner or agent of a foreign ship engages seamen from any port or place in Pakistan, it shall not be necessary for such seaman to enter into Pakistan Article of Agreement under section 125 of the MSO, 2001. The word “not necessary” means not required. Provisions of section 127 of the MSO, 2001 clarifies that the master, owner or agent of a foreign ship engages seaman from any port or any place in Pakistan is not required to enter into an agreement of employment with such foreign ship under section 125 of MSO, 2001.
On the other hand, maritime experts expressed their surprise over the attitude of Govt. Shipping Master’s office. They asked why manning agents are required to submit record to shipping office, when all exit and entry record of seaman is recorded at Airport. Can a seaman fly out/in without SID or seaman book? The answer is no. So why DG P&S is making things complicated and difficult for manning agents and seamen when they can obtain all record from immigration authorities.
The purpose of shipping office is to issue and verify seaman books and SID to be issued to valid seaman and confirm its validity to various authorities as and when required. To overcome their own lack of coordination with other Govt. departments and authorities, they are making new set of rules and requirements to make seamen and manning agents’ life difficult.
In their opinion, seaman should not require to be hired through a manning agent. If a foreign company wants to hire seamen directly, then officers/seamen must fulfill all the requirements, obtain documents from company and fly without any manning agent.
They said the Shipping Office is there to ensure that seaman book and SID are issued to seaman after verification of background. Immigration has to ensure that persons in possession of valid seaman books and SID are getting the privileges of a seaman. Their lack of performance should not make seaman’s life difficult. Why shipping office cannot make data online accessible to immigration and other proper authorities? When NADRA data is made available to some foreign countries, why not shipping office? It’s not a confidential data.
Another simple question is, under which law they derive their authority to make such requirements? There is no law behind it indeed. In fact, these new requirements shall further deter new companies to think about employing Pakistani seamen.
One last thing, it is shipping office that issues the seaman book and SID, not manning agents. It is shipping office job to introduce some security features in these documents like passports and currency notes to make sure any forgery impossible. Instead of doing all this because it requires hard work, they are making seaman life more and more difficult because it’s as easy as one is breathing, the maritime experts added.