Private jetties, politics stunt Korangi harbour’s growth

The auction hall at the Korangi harbour looks deserted.—White Star Photo

KARACHI: Operation of more than a dozen private jetties along Korangi Creek, lack of local ownership and the government’s failure to revive deep-sea fishing and attend to concerns of local fishermen are some major reasons that explain that why the Korangi fish harbour built at a cost of Rs1 billion has not been able to serve its purpose even after two decades.

The harbour sitting on the bank of Korangi Creek was established as an alternative harbour with the support of the Asian Development Bank to increase fish production and promote deep-sea fishing by accommodating large vessels and assisting in removing congestion at the Karachi fish harbour.

It has all relevant infrastructures to operate as a harbour, including a jetty (709 metres long), fish auction hall, navigational aids, offices for mole holders, restaurants, net-mending sheds, public toilets and car parking, etc.

A number of fish processing units have also come up on the harbour land in recent years. However, the harbour is still non-functional. In fact, issues like lack of local ownership have become grave over the years.

According to sources, the provincial government has tried many times to take over the harbour especially after the devolution but failed on grounds that fishing in the exclusive economic zone is a federal subject. On the other hand, the harbour management appears to have no clue that how to deal with local politics and ‘mafias’ operating in the area.

A recent visit to the harbour showed that the road leading to the facility had heaps of solid waste on both sides while continued flow of untreated effluent from the Korangi industrial area into the creek had not only seriously harmed the ecology of the area, but had also marred the attraction of the harbour, which, indeed, looked beautiful as it stood isolated along the creek.

No activity was observed at the jetty where 20 small boats were seen anchored while the auction hall was vacant.

“We bring our boats at the harbour for repairs and to unload the catch which is then transported to the main harbour for auction. This cost us a lot of money but we enjoy the harbour’s peace. There are no service charges for anchoring the boat, besides we get water free,” said Rahimullah who along with his colleagues were the only fishermen found engaged in work at the jetty.

Zahid Iqbal, a retired colonel running a fish processing plant at the harbour, said currently the harbour was facing a severe shortage of electricity and water which had affected production of the fish processing units.

“The additional amount of money we spend to get water or electricity increases the cost of production that renders our products incompatible in the international market. It is unfortunate that there is no support from the state in this regard,” he said.

Regarding his decision of choosing the Korangi harbour to establish a fish processing plant, he said a foreign consultant he had hired for consultation had told him that the Karachi fish harbour was too congested and it was not a suitable place for such an investment as foreign buyers could raise concern over unhygienic conditions prevailing at the harbour.

“I do not buy fish from the Karachi fish harbour but rather take them directly from fishermen to whom I have provided fibreglass boxes to keep the catch,” he said while pointing out that he had also organised training programmes for fishermen in fish handling with the help of a foreign donor agency.

Replying to a question that why the harbour could not start functioning, Mohammad Moazzam Khan, a former director general of the marine fisheries department currently serving as the technical adviser to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), said: “There are too many issues plaguing the harbour and there are no easy solutions. It got a wrong location and wrong design, besides local politics has affected the growth of the harbour. No public transport is available here.

“The government couldn’t persuade people to come and do their business. In 20 years, 26 processing plants have been set up along the Balochistan coast while the progress has been too slow at the harbour.”

The best chance to make the harbour functional, he said, came in 1996-97 but, unfortunately, at that time the European Union raised its concern over the working conditions at the Karachi fish harbour and the opportunity was lost.

Replying to the question of the federal government’s control over the harbour, he said the exploitation of fish resources beyond the territorial waters (deep-sea fishing) was the responsibility of the federal government under the constitution.

Mohammad Ali Shah, representing the Pakistan Fisher Folk Forum, said that it was a long-standing demand of the organisation to make the Korangi harbour operational. The lack of facilities, he said, had discouraged fishermen from coming there.

“There is no one there to buy our catch. Why would fishermen go there?” he said, adding that a whole system of auctioning and marketing was needed to motivate fishermen to use the Korangi harbour.

Deep-sea trawlers were operating in few numbers and had largely left because of increases in fuel prices and depleting fish resources five years ago. “Deep-sea trawlers have destroyed our marine resources and we have been demanding a ban on them,” he said.

Director general of the marine fisheries department Shaukat Hussain said that the government had revised its deep-sea fishing policy in 2009 to make the fishing practices eco-friendly.

“Thirty-nine applications had been received for deep-sea licences in response to our 2010 advertisement. However, none of them could bring their vessel within two months. Some have contacted us again but no licence has yet been issued,” he said.

Managing director of the Korangi Fisheries Harbour Authority S.M Tariq, however, seemed hopeful. He said: “The harbour is in a take-off position and the auction hall would be made operational within a year. Six fish processing units and an ice factory have been set up at the harbour whereas process is under way to set up four more processing units. Right now, the auction hall is being used by a Korean company.”

The Karachi harbour, he said, had miserably failed to deliver and plans had been made to make the Korangi harbour to serve as the EU export zone.

About water and electricity problems, he said the harbour would get uninterrupted electricity supply by early December as the Karachi Electric Supply Company had agreed to make separate arrangements for supplies.

Illegal hydrants, he said, had been hampering water supplies for a long time despite operations by law-enforcement agencies.

Replying to a question about taking fishermen on board, he said the harbour management had held many meetings with fishermen using the main harbour but they had declined to come.

“We do not need boats from the Karachi harbour as about 1,000 boats are already operating in Korangi Creek. That is why we are motivating small boat owners to use the harbour,” he said while admitting that operation of private jetties and local politics had affected the harbour’s growth.



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