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KARACHI: The families of three Pakistani sailors who reportedly died in a missile attack on a merchant ship off the coast of Yemen last week have been protesting outside the Pakistan Ports and Shipping office at Karachi’s West Wharf for the past few days. They are unhappy over the lack of information about the incident and the overall silence by the authorities on the subject.

Speaking to Dawn, Ameer Baloch, General Secretary of the Insaaf Maritime Workers Union, said the Director General of Ports and Shipping, Asad Rafiq Chandana, had held meetings with officials of the Karachi Port Trust (KPT) and Pakistan National Shipping Corporation (PNSC). The meeting discussed ways to get in touch with people who could shed light on the episode.

An official of Arabian Marine Services, the manning agent of the Iranian vessel MV Jouya-8, claimed that eight Pakistani sailors were on the ship when it was hit by a missile on Dec 18. According to the official, the ship was on its way to Dubai after unloading a consignment in Egypt. It was reportedly attacked near Yemen’s Hodeidah port, which is under the Houthi militia’s control.

Reports have been trickling in about the seven crew members who were on board the ship when it came under attack. The maritime union workers maintain that seven, out of the eight crew members, died after the missile attack. They were: Mohammad Shoaib (Seaman Service Book No 6045/ek), diesel mechanic on the ship; Mohammad Hanif (SSB No 015095/s, welder fitter); Syed Aneesur Rehman (SSB No 00990/s) for General Purpose; Sohail Ahmed (SSB No 020272/s, General Purpose); Abdul Razzaq (SSB No 012806/s, General Purpose); Mohammad Ibrahim (SSB No 03230/s, General Purpose); and Kabeer Khadim Hussain (SSB No 04100/s, General Purpose).

Kabeer Khadim is the only one known to have survived as he contacted union workers himself after allegedly swimming to the shore.

Ameer Baloch blamed the tragedy on the indifference to workers’ safety on the part of the government as well as the owners. “Curbs on unionisation encourage exploitation of workers as they can’t demand their rights under a solid agreement.” According to him, there were two types of ships heading out to the sea.

“Major companies such as the MacKinnon MacKenzie and Kuwait Shipping sign an agreement with the union and the shipping master is on board regarding the salary, health and safety of the workers. The agreement made with the union is renewed every year.

“The agreement expired in 2002 and has not been renewed since.” There is a separate agreement with private companies.

Then there are the vessels which, he said, are provided licences “without prior completion of agreements”. He accused the PNSC of issuing licences without considering the legal agreements and luring workers by paying them $100-$200 per consignment. He alleged that owners of such ships were not bound by a contract to ensure the sailors’ safety.

The Foreign Office and the PNSC declined to reply to Dawn’s queries. Asad Rafiq Chandana, the DG Ports and Shipping, was said to be in a meeting.

Published in Dawn, December 28th, 2016