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The Blue Solution

May 29, 2023 at 10:45 am | Economic Affairs

There are broadly six sectors in Blue Economy valued at $24 trillion while it is credited for generating one out of ten jobs in the world. Unfortunately, Pakistan has not been truly focusing on its maritime possessions

Reema Shaukat

The government of Pakistan has been striving to strike a deal with the IMF, seek loan from friends and put economy on the track. As yet, all the paths seem to be embedded with hurdles but the government is hedging its bet against default. It seems we have missed many boats and one of them is taking advantage of our marine resource abundantly available in our south.

Pakistan is blessed with an over 1000 km long coastline, 240,000 sqkm Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), 50,000 sqkm Continental Shelf (CS), and a vibrant coastal community. The geographical location of Pakistan is also a significant aspect of our strategic paradigm, which offers the shortest route to the Indian Ocean for Central Asian Republics, Afghanistan, and western parts of China through Karachi and Gwadar ports, presenting great potential for development at national and regional levels.

Human existence is inherently linked with oceans and seas. The growing world population and increasing food and energy demands coupled with diminishing land resources have persistently compelled the human race to explore alternate measures for our sustenance and economic development. Oceans are a vital resource of our planet Earth, containing countless marine species and vast sea bed possessions. Reliance on oceans has led to diverse economic interactions which are termed as the blue economy, covering commerce activities focused on prudent exploitation of ocean-based resources.

Besides being the cheapest medium for the transportation of goods, oceans contribute to the world’s economy through tourism, fishing, renewable energy production, aquaculture, and seabed resources. The concept of blue economy is increasingly adopted by developed nations for sustainable growth. There are broadly six sectors in Blue Economy valued at $24 trillion while it is credited for generating one out of ten jobs in the world. In 2010, the Blue Economy was globally valued at approximately $1.5 trillion which is expected to surpass $3 trillion mark by year 2030.

Unfortunately, Pakistan has not been truly focusing on its maritime possessions. According to National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), over 16,650 million barrels of oil equivalent gas resources exist within Pakistan’s maritime area. International Seabed Authority (ISA) evaluation indicates that Pakistan’s continental shelf is in possession of approximately $14,000M worth of untapped oil and gas reserves. Similarly, according to another study by ISA, approximately 4.4M tons of deep-sea mineral deposits potentially exist in country’s Continental Shelf. While enjoying sovereign rights over the resources within EEZ, we have remained oblivious of their potential.

Karachi, Bin Qasim and Gwadar are the three ports of Pakistan. Karachi and Bin Qasim ports are capable of berthing vessels up to 75,000 Deadweight Tonnage (DWT).  Currently, Gwadar port can house vessels up to 50,000 DWT.  Located in the vicinity of strategically important chokepoint of Strait of Hormuz, it can become the hub of national economic development and efficient route for world markets via transit and trans-shipment trade.

The port has a potential of 88 berths and a capacity to anchor ships up to 200,000 DWT. Gwadar serves as sea component of CPEC and the projects conceived under CPEC around Gwadar are expected to yield tremendous benefits to our maritime industry. Likewise, the success of CPEC rests upon successful operation of Gwadar port. 

Over 95% of Pakistan’s trade is via the sea. The country has just 14 merchant vessels as national flag carriers. Consequently, we pay approximately $5 billion per annum in the form of freight charges to the foreign flag carriers. Pakistan’s contribution in shipbuilding and repairing is solely limited to Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Works (KS&EW) with its capacity limited to 26,000 DWT which is considered far less as compared to other shipyards in the region.

Due to immediate proximity to Gulf SLOCs, approximately 21 million barrels of oil pass through EEZ of Pakistan on daily basis with annual traffic of 23000 ships sailing close to our coast. This offers an opportunity to offer repair and maintenance facilities to these freighters. Pakistan has announced a plan to build a new shipyard in Gwadar primarily to extend repair and maintenance facilities to the vessels plying along these SLOCs.

Pakistan had one of the leading shipbreaking yards in the region at Gaddani. It has gradually lagged behind in its capacity owing to negligence. As of year 2020, 630 ocean-going commercial vessels were sold to scrap yards. Out of these, 446 (90% of total gross tonnage dismantled) vessels of different categories were broken down on three beaches in South Asia; 203 in Alang, India, 144 ships in Chittagong, Bangladesh and only 99 at Gaddani.

Coastal tourism is also one of the fields that can be developed and exploited by Pakistan. We have two distinct coasts in the south astride Karachi. Sindh coast on the east is replete with mangroves and creeks forming a unique terrain feature not vey abundantly found in the world. On our west coast some of the most exquisite beaches and islands are still lying virgin. We can make use of them for generating revenue if the visitors are duly incentivised and encouraged. 

Given our fragile economic health, pragmatic solution to our economic challenges is the need of hour. Perhaps answer lies in diversifying the economy and exploring new avenues for sustainable economic development. There is a dire need to understand the significance of Blue Economy. First and the foremost requirement is to identify ends, ways and means for accruing speedy tangible benefits out of this vast resource.

A joint effort to grasp the essentials as well as dividends of the Blue Economy involving academia, non-governmental organizations, think tanks, entrepreneurs, educational institutions and above all public is but mandatory. The task is however not that humble as it requires massive efforts and resources. It needs a firm resolve across the board while the government has the lead role in this but others are to serve as the propellants.

The writer works at Institute of Regional Studies and can be reached at reema.asim81@gmail.com

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