Barred from the deep blue sea

Sailors in financial crisis as deep sea fishing remains banned by coast guards amid contagion threat

Shakir Sultan May 31, 2020

KARACHI: Spending over two months in the coronavirus-induced lockdown has had a crushing impact on the country’s economy, putting several out of jobs and many in strained circumstances.

However, the last couple of months have weighed the heaviest on daily-wage earners, especially the hundreds of local sailors, who have been left on their beam-ends amid unceasing sailing restrictions imposed to curb the virus’s spread.

When the Sindh government initiated the provincial lockdown some two-and-a-half months ago, the Pakistan Coast Guards and navy officials had issued strict standard operating procedures for local fishermen and sailing crews, while also banning their boats from entering the deep sea.

In doing so, they had also stopped tourists and families from coming to the Keamari Boat Basin for recreational purposes and hampered the supply of diesel to the hundreds of boats associated with the business.

“Before the lockdown killed our business, the Keamari Basin would be crawling with people of all ages from all over the country, who would come here to enjoy boat rides and picnics with their friends and family. It was good business - we weren’t rich but we weren’t going hungry either,” recalled a private motor-boat owner.

“However, the last two months have changed everything. The government has banned sailing into the deep sea and stopped people from taking recreational boat rides. The basin now appears deserted and we’ve lost all business,” he added

As a result of the coast guards’ decision to suspend their access to deep sea, several boats and steamers of all sizes have remained anchored adjacent to the Keamari Jetty for more than two months.

“We made a living through these boats; it was when they sailed that our stoves burned. Now that there is no work anymore, we have been brought to a point where we don’t even have enough for basic necessities,” a sailor lamented.

On the other hand, the prolonged lockdown has also had a severe impact on crew members working on these boats. Already impoverished and paid meager dues, hundreds of launch sailors and employees had to bear the brunt of the economic crisis when private boat owners started downsizing and laying off employees to save business.

“It has been very difficult for the boat crew to earn in this situation. Many of us who have been able to keep our jobs still visit the basin every day to clean and inspect the anchored boats but there’s no business in sight until the government decides to lift the ban on sailing into the deep sea. But even when that happens, there’s no telling how long it will be before people can step out of the coronavirus scare and enjoy public gatherings like picnics and sightseeing activities,” said a crew member while speaking to The Express Tribune. 

Published in The Express Tribune, May 31st, 2020.


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