THE fate of a number of Pakistani sailors on board an Iranian vessel off the coast of Yemen remains shrouded in mystery. As reported in this paper on Wednesday, a shipping agent claims the vessel — en route to Dubai after unloading cargo in Egypt — came under missile attack on Dec 18 near the Yemeni port of Hodeidah. Out of eight Pakistani sailors on board, seven are reported to have died in the attack. However, the relevant authorities in Pakistan, namely the ministries of ports and shipping and foreign affairs, remain tight-lipped about the incident, which has added to the anxiety of the men’s families. Moreover, Iranian news outlet Press TV had reported on Dec 5 that at least six Pakistani sailors had been killed after Saudi warplanes allegedly attacked a vessel off the Yemeni port of Mokha. Are both these reports referring to the same incident? The conflicting details need to be reconciled so that the facts of the matter can be known. While it is true that Yemen is presently a war zone and details are difficult to verify, the government must make extra efforts to ascertain the fate of the missing sailors. The relevant ministries should seek more information from the shipping company, as well as contact the littoral states in order to gather more information about the missing crew.
Unfortunately, as has been often witnessed, whether it is the fate of the sailors mentioned above, or Pakistanis caught in difficult situations abroad in general, the state’s response to their woes leaves much to be desired. For example, when citizens of this country end up in foreign jails, particularly in the Gulf states, they are left to deal with opaque legal systems without much help from Pakistani missions, unless of course some conscientious diplomat decides to intervene on their behalf. The response of our missions in Saudi Arabia could also have been better when, recently, Pakistani workers were caught in a crisis after their employers held up their pay for many months. When their citizens are under any distress on foreign soil, many governments spring into action to provide any possible assistance in the form of consular access or legal help. Pakistani missions must also strive to look out for the welfare of our citizens overseas, offering them all possible help. In the case of the missing sailors, the state must redouble its efforts to establish the truth and hopefully discover their whereabouts.
Published in Dawn December 29th, 2016