Sources say health officials are issuing clearance certificates to various ships at Karachi Port and Port Qasim without inspection
The country’s seaports appear to be ill-guarded against Ebola virus as the local and international health authorities in Pakistan are concentrating chiefly on airports to check the spread of the deadly disease.
Since its outbreak earlier this year in the West African countries like Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mali and Nigeria, the epidemic has spread to several nations including United States (US). The global death toll from Ebola till November 18 was reported to be 5,459, according to World Health Organisation (WHO) whose eight-member mission is reported to have arrived in Pakistan to assess arrangements made by the government to keep Ebola virus out of the country.
PHE AUTHORITIES, SHIPPERS LEAST CONCERNED:
However, health authorities and shippers have downplayed the threat of Ebola entering Pakistan from the country’s seafront.
Officials of Port Health Establishment (PHE), which works under National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination (NHSRC), said that every month more than 250 vessels carrying hundreds of shipping crew of different nationalities, call at the country’s two major ports, Karachi Port and Port Qasim.
“No safety quarantine measures are being taken at the ports,” claimed a source privy to the port operations. The shipping crew is arriving at and leaving from local ports without any checking, he added.
“Not a single official of the seaport authorities participated in a federal government’s meeting held recently in Islamabad,” the source said.
Shippers also share the same attitude of indifference to the possible threat of Ebola.
Talking to Pakistan Today, All Pakistan Shipping Association (APSA) Chairman Aasim Siddiqui said, “There is no threat to Pakistan. Only countries situated near the African region are on alert.”
“While a ship takes at least three weeks to arrive in Pakistan from Africa, Ebola can kill within a week’s time. How can an Ebola victim survive the three-week long journey and arrive in the country,” the APSA chief added.
However, talking to Pakistan Today, former chairman and executive committee member of Pakistan Ship’s Agents Association (PSAA) Muhammad A Rajpar said that the “risk” still exists but it was not “high”.
He said that it was routine practice to fumigate cargo loaded in West Africa but added that “no extraordinary measures were being taken at local ports”.
What makes PHE officials oblivious to the threat is the perception that Pakistan, having no direct trade with the infected countries of West Africa, is safe from the deadly Ebola virus.
“We have no system in place to check if a crew is infected with Ebola virus,” said a PHE official, seeking anonymity.
“The only potential threat is a shipping route that goes through Sudan, Djibouti, Mundra and Karachi. Ships commuting through this route are being monitored and at least four vessels, Kota Kaya, Kota Karim, Kota Kustoory and Kota Nipa, of Pacific Delta shipping line are under close watch,” said the official.
Moreover, PHE has also issued letters to immigration directorate of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), barring it from issuing “temporary visas” to crew members aboard the ships coming from the infected countries, the official added.
Furthermore, details of last 10 ports of call are being sought from all vessels calling at local ports to ascertain if they had visited any port in the infected countries, he said.
“Besides the country’s flag, a yellow flag is hoisted on every vessel to indicate that the ship concerned is to be cleared by the local port health authorities,” he said.
Port operators at Karachi Port Trust (KPT) also claim to have distributed 15,000 pamphlets and erected banners to educate people regarding Ebola.
“An isolation ward, a functional lab and medical experts are available round the clock to deal with infectious diseases at KPT Hospital,” said KPT spokesman Shafique Faridi.
The sources, however, insisted that the health inspectors at PHE are issuing clearance certificates to the ships without physical inspection.
“In many cases, PHE officials do not go for physical inspection and clear the documents