Last week a ship hit the pilot boat from behind and damaged it in Port Qasim channel. The ship was commanded by the pilot of PQA while the boat and its Master was employee of a private contractor. Such accidents are common in this port where more than three ships were grounded last year, according to informed sources. The reason is stated as the shortage of qualified crew and overloading of existing over aged crew.
The Port Qasim Authority (PQA) is deliberately being run with short crew and under strength in violation of ILO and IMO rules that could cause a major disaster in case of any serious accident. This is the country’s second most strategic port handling approximately 50% of nation’s dry and liquid cargo and 100% vital imported LNG supplies. PQA is an autonomous body but there was undue interference from (Ministry of Maritime Affairs) MOMA officials and Minister Ali Zaidi to dictate matters. There is acute shortage of pilots, engineers and support staff but instead of new hiring they prefer outsourcing which is making no benefits as many crafts were lying non-operational.
Informed sources disclosed that on many important posts single persons were holding additional charge and retired unqualified people were called back instead of appointing fresh and qualified personnel. On the other hand few officials were temporarily promoted on higher ranks. Pilots are the most important part of any port operation in the world and require extensive training and man hours for handling ships in particular channels, but in PQA most of them are due to be retired in couple of years without any suitable replacement.
It may be mentioned that new pilots are always trained and inducted in advance. They are handed over charge of independent pilotage operation and require extensive training of at least two years so that they could be familiar with channel and all external factors affecting it. There is dire need to overcome the shortage of important staff and plan for the future induction and training of pilots and engineers for fast expanding Port operations.
The sources pointed out that Capt Rizwan Ghauri BPS-19 Manager Conservancy is also holding the charge of acting Director General Operations BPS-21 and the Deputy Conservator Marine Ops BPS-20 in addition to his own post. The Operation Room Officer (ORO) posts are temporarily held by under qualified persons namely Wajid Rauf, Kamran Iqbal and Ghulam Murtuza. As per PQA service rules minimum qualification for ORO is Class II F.G (Foreign going) Deck COC (Certificate of Competency) which is lacked by all three existing ORO’s. The sources mentioned that there is sanctioned strength of 12 Marine Engineers but actually only three persons working. Similarly there were 8 sanctioned vacancies for Pilots lying unfulfilled.
According to details PQA Crafts Tug Mohna, Sohna and P.B Amber which was newly acquired in 2018 had been outsourced to Bahria Foundation in January 2019 for manning, operation and 1st Line Maintenance due to shortage of Engineers, Inland Masters and Support staff at hefty and huge amount of Rs 619 million for 2 years. When PQA workers union interfered and staged protest one Craft Tug Sohna was taken back and PQA engineers and staff are running this tug since then. Still huge amount of Rs 400 million contracts were awarded to Bahria Foundation to run just one Tug and one Pilot Boat.
Similarly other PQA Crafts which include Tug Sachal, Pilot Boats Karli, Kenjhar and surveillance crafts Makli, Sohni had been outsourced to PNSC for manning, operation and 1st Line Maintenance again on hefty amounts. But the persons appointed by PNSC on these crafts were far below the qualification required as per PQA Tender. Most of these outsourced crafts were either non-operational or cannot be used in shipping operations due to poor sea worthiness.
In February 2019 advertisements were published in all prominent newspapers for induction in different categories by then chairman PQA Asad Chandna. Tests were conducted by Institute of Business Management Korangi Creek Karachi on 24 April 2019. Result of tests announced on 29 April 2019 and interviews of successful candidates were conducted on 21 May 2019. After the interviews Asad Chandna then chairman PQA realized that he was about to be removed as PQA Chairman he delayed the process.
Then Rear Adml rtd Hasan Nasir Shah appointed as PQA Chairman who scraped the whole process. In December 2019 again advertisements appeared for the posts of pilot, marine engineer, operation room officer and inland masters. Again tests were conducted by IBM Korangi Creek Karachi on 24 January 2020 and interviews of successful candidates held on 25 February 2020. After that there was no progress on the matter and seafarers who were waiting for the outcome of results and interviews since last year missed/ canceled their ships joining now being laid off by their companies. For the post of chief engineer and hydrographic officer advertisements were published in newspapers on December 2019 but still no test was conducted by PQA.
According to sources Hassan Nasir Shah was retired from Pak navy in May 2018 as Rear Admiral then he was appointed M.D Karachi Shipyard. He assumed the charge of PQA Chairman for 3 years in July 2019 which is a MP-1 scale lucrative post. He was hand-picked by Rizwan Ahmed (Secretary MOMA) as both are good friends and class fellows of cadet college Petaro. Sources claimed that Chairman had asked Board Members to amend PQA service rules to remove the COC qualification criteria for the post of DG Operations, pilots, engineers and inland masters so that retired navy personnel could be inducted but subsequently Board refused to compromise on qualification criteria matter.
By taking advantage of recent Corona pandemic PQA management called back its retired Dock Master Shahid Subhan and former DG Ops Noman Ahsan for training and familiarization of PQA channel in case any pilots came into contact with Coronavirus and hospitalize. This was their backup plan rather to train young pilots and induct support staff which can serve port longer. Noman Ahsan was retired as DG Ops in 2017 at BPS-21; Shahid Subhan was also retired in 2017 as Dock Master at BPS-19. Noman Ahsan had questionable health issues, he is a cancer patient. This clearly shows the lack of vision and planning of PQA chairman and management.
In this background many questions are raised, why initial process of recruitment was scrapped after the test and interviews had been followed. Why the second process after following test and interviews was taking time and only resulting in increased misery of seafarers who were waiting to see the outcome of selection. Why they called up retired and superannuated people whereas process of new joiners delayed for a year now for unknown reasons.