The deaths of 10 fishermen, who drowned when their boat capsized soon after leaving Ibrahim Hyderi village near Karachi, raises a lot of questions about the state of water safety in the country. The fishermen set sail around the time of the high tide, when conditions on the seas are most treacherous. No warning was given to the boat and indeed, the fishermen should never have been allowed to leave by the coastguard in the first place. Instead, the fishermen were left to their own devices, with the other 27 men on the boat rescued by a passing trawler.
Those responsible for providing warnings to the fishermen before they set off on their voyage and for rescue efforts once the boat capsized are the coastguard and the Maritime Security Agency (MSA). Yet, according to the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, the MSA sent only one boat to try and find any survivors. This was a failure not just of pre-disaster management but also of post-disaster management. At all levels, the authorities concerned were unable to do their job, leaving the unlucky fishermen to face the ravages of the sea. The dereliction of duty on their part is even more startling given that the monsoon season is in full swing and adverse weather conditions should be expected.
There may be such incidents in the future and the MSA should learn its lesson from the Ibrahim Hyderi disaster. A system needs to be put in place to alert fishermen when weather conditions are too dangerous and the coastguard must ensure that no fishermen head out to sea when this is the case. In case of freak waves, where the authorities have no forewarning, the MSA must use not only multiple boats to find survivors, but it must also employ helicopters to track down fishermen. Human life cannot have a price tag placed on it and so questions of expense should not be entertained. In this particular case, the police needs to investigate if the authorities were at fault and register cases against those responsible. Punitive punishment is the only way to get apathetic officials to do their job.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 12th, 2012.
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