Wednesday, 8 May 2013


The year 1971-72 was very eventful for the economy of Pakistan in general and Pakistan Shipping in particular. The country experienced the worst possible crisis in the Eastern Wing, in 1971 when from March onward all commercial activity came virtually to a stand still and as a result, shipping could not continue its activities in the ports of Chittagong and Chalna. The crises culminated in to the full-fledged war resulting in a forcible separation of East Pakistan. NSC thus lost roughly two third of her traditional trade i.e. imports & exports from East Pakistan as well as inter-wing trade and was left only with the imports & exports of West Pakistan. Exports from West Pakistan too were adversely affected by the labour unrest. Due to these crisis, the World Bank and the Consortium of aid giving countries were reluctant to finance Pakistani projects and there was hardly any thing moving from USA, Canada and Europe except certain negotiated deals


The war between India and Pakistan adversely affected the Corporation’s operations. Although all its services continued to operate normally but vessels transiting home waters had to be specially re-routed for security reasons. As a result of rationalization of country’s import below normal because of the prevailing market uncertainties, port congestion, the seamen’s strike in the UK, the increased stevedoring, insurance, port dues and cargo handling costs, affected the Corporation’s revenues. In spite of these adverse factors the Corporation’s overall commercial operations showed adequate and satisfactory profits


Pakistan Steam Navigation Company Limited was established in Chittagong, East Pakistan. This company was owned by Mr. Abdul Qasim Khan a renowned personality and a big industrialist. He also owned Jute Mills, Leather Factory, Match Factory, Insurance Company and Board Building Industry in Chittagong.

Two old ships of British India Steamship (BI) were purchased by Pakistan Steam Navigation Company Ltd for plying between ChittagongKarachi.

This company progressed very well, but, unfortunately ill health of Mr. Abdul Qasim Khan did not allow him to run the affairs of company effectively. Other family members did not pay full attention in the affairs of company which led closure of company in late 60’s of last century. 


In the year 1957-58 it was noted that Pakistan did not have any share of cargo in foreign liner trades of the country. No shipping company had the resources or ships to take on this share. In theory and according to International norm, the trade was to be divided in the ratio of 40% for exporting country’s cargo, 32% for importing country’s cargo and remaining for third countries.

Ship-owners therefore decided on a scheme to jointly form a company to take advantage of this norm and obtain Pakistan’s legitimate share.

Pakistan Shipping Lines (PSL)  which was the brainchild of Mr. Abdul Hameed Ismail and Mr. Eddie Dinshaw was established on 05 May, 1959. All nine ship owners were the directors in Pakistan Shipping Companies with share of Rs.10,000 each. The first office was located in the small premises of Pan Islamic Steamship at Dunoley Road, Karachi. First ship to load from Chalna, East Pakistan for Dundee with full load of Jute under this conference line was SS Chittagong City.

Nine ships were required to meet the demand of the tonnage. In principal  it was  decided  to  demand Pakistan’s share from the two main shipping conferences – the Karmahom (Karachi – Marmagoa – Home) and the Europe Bay of Bengal Conference.

The routing of the ships was KarachiChittagong / Chalna – Europe (UK / N. Continent) and back.

One ship each from the existing companies was in the hands of the Board of Directors appointed by the individual company. By mutual agreement Mr. Qasim Dada was appointed Chairman, Mr. Eddie Dinshaw the Managing Director and Mr. Muhammad Iqbal Qureshi was  appointed  as  the  Manager.  On Mr. Dinshaw leaving the country in 1971 Mr. Cyrus Cowasjee took over his functions despite not having any official appointment.

The enterprise was run quite successfully carrying Pakistan’s full share of the trade and enjoying the full benefit of the conference pooling system till 1963-64 when National Shipping Corporation (NSC) was formed. NSC demanded a share in the business which had to be reluctantly given to them. However the arrangement continued till nationalization in 1974 when NSC took over the entire Pakistan share and PSL ceased to exist.

Crescent Shipping Lines Ltd

Crescent Shipping Lines Limited (CSL) was a subsidiary of a Public Limited Company namely Crescent Textile Mills Ltd (CTML) that belonged to M/s. Muhammad Amin Muhammad Bashir Limited (MAMB). MAMB Group was the leading exporters of Cotton of the country and were called as “Cotton King”. During Ayub Khan era the sponsor’s family was one of the top 22 families of Pakistan.

During early 1959 Field Marshal Ayub Khan emphasized the need for a Passenger cum Cargo Ship to provide service between East and West Pakistan and advised Mian Muhammad Bashir to acquire a ship suitable for the requirement of Passenger and Cargo traffic between the two wings of Pakistan.

Accordingly, in early 1959 the MAMB Group established a Private Limited Company namely Crescent Shipping Lines (CSL) with a paid up Capital of Rs.4.4 million. Its major shares worth Rs.4 million  were held by CTML, Rs.0.2 million by MAMB and Rs.0.2 million by 14 sponsors. Since the MAMB Group did not have the expertise in shipping, it appointed Mr. Gert Beaulau (a German National, an expert in shipping) as Manager and Mr. Zafar Ahmed, a Senior Chief Engineer, as consultant.

MAMB (the Managing Agents for CSL) awarded a contract to M/s. Hitachi Shipbuilding & Engineering  Company  Limited, Osaka, Japan to build a Passenger cum Cargo Vessel on May 01, 1959 for about Rs.20 million under foreign exchange loan and credit from National Bank of Pakistan (NBP).

The ship was named as MV Shams and was delivered on December 17, 1960. The launching ceremony was graced by Field Marshal Ayub Khan at Sakuranjima Shipyard, Osaka, Japan.

MV Shams started regular passenger cum cargo service from January 1960 between East and West Pakistan providing an average of 13 round voyages per year on Karachi / Chittagong / Karachi route. This service continued till the fall of Dacca i.e. till end of 1971. During the disturbances in East Pakistan in 1971, MV Shams on her last voyage was stuck up at Chalna. Fortunately she managed to sail out from there with more than 3500 passengers on board in emergency, before the mines were laid in Pussur River. She arrived safely at Karachi and disembarked the passengers at West Wharf.

Keeping in view the difficulties of the people of Gwadar, Pasni and Ormara, Field Marshal Ayub Khan advised Mian Muhammad Bashir to acquire a small passenger cum cargo vessel to meet the requirement of the people of Makran Coast. Accordingly, during the last quarter of 1961 CSL had acquired a secondhand vessel MV Mombasa from BI Steamship Company Ltd. for over Rs.2 million under foreign exchange loan and credit from Industrial Development Bank of Pakistan. The vessel was renamed as MV Kareem.

MV Kareem started regular passenger cum cargo service from January, 1962 on Karachi Makran Coast / Karachi / Colombo / Bombay / Karachi till August, 1965. After Indo Pakistan War in September, 1965, the vessel was put on Karachi / Makran Coast / Karachi and Karachi / Persian Gulf / Karachi till 1966. The vessel was sold for scrap in 1967.
During 1972 and 1973 MV Shams was carrying Pilgrims during Haj season and during off Haj season the vessel was employed as cargo ship on Karachi / Far East / Karachi route.

Late 1973 the management of CSL intended to acquire a cargo ship under foreign exchange loan offered by Yugoslavia and credit by Pakistan Industrial Credit and Investment Corporation Limited (PICIC). The feasibility report was submitted by CSL to PICIC which was approved and foreign exchange loan and credit were sanctioned. The market was still being explored to acquire a suitable cargo ship, when in January, 1974 all private shipping lines were nationalized and the plan of purchasing this ship could not be materialized. 

Sub-Continent Pilgrim Ships History:

Before the advent of steamships, sailing vessels owned by Indians catered for this traffic and the Muslim rulers had given adequate support to this business.

During Mogul times and until the 18th century, pilgrims from India had the option of traveling to Makkah either by overland caravan or by sailing ships. The land route via the northwest of India was long, difficult and hazardous and also involved crossing hostile territories. The Indian pilgrims generally preferred to go by sea, primarily through the Red Sea, and occasionally through the Persian Gulf. However, rampant piracy and a strict Portuguese control over the Indian Ocean in the 16th century made passage through the Red Sea a dangerous trip. Most ships traveling from India to the Red Sea were forced to carry a Portuguese cartaz, or pass.

The earliest visit by Indians to Makkah for Haj is a matter of conjecture but it is very likely that such visits pre-date the Muslim conquests of Sindh in 664-712 AD.

(Because of the location of the Jeddah Port as the gateway to Makkah as well as a leading port for Red Sea trade, it attracted merchants and pilgrims alike in large numbers every year. The people of Hejaz were fascinated by India’s spices, pearls, precious stones, silk, sandalwood, oud and perfumes and looked forward to the arrival of Indian ships.)

In British India, Haj continued to get attention. In 1885, the British government appointed the famous tourist agency Thomas Cook as the official travel agent for the Haj pilgrimage. The British government affirmed that it had special obligations to protect the stream of “Muhammadan pilgrims going to the sacred places at Makkah and Karbala.” In 1927, a 10-member Haj Committee was constituted, headed by the commissioner of police, Bombay, which was replaced by the Port Haj Committee in 1932.

The largest shipping line operating from Indian ports was the Mogul Line, which was founded in 1888 and managed by the British company Turner Morrison. The oldest of the Mogul Line ships was SS Alawi (built in 1924) followed by SS Rizwani (built in 1930). These ships were scrapped in 1958 and 1959 respectively. Other early Mogul Line ships were SS Saudi (capacity 999), SS Muhammadi and SS Muzaffari (capacity 1,460), SS Islami (capacity 1,200), MV Akbar (capacity 1,600), SS Noorjehan (capacity 1,756) and SS Nicobar (capacity 1,170).

In 1927, Mogul Line ships carried nearly 20,000 of the 36,000 Hajis arriving from India. In the late 1930s, over 70 percent of pilgrim ships from India were Mogul Line vessels.

Moghuls Line had the monopoly of the Haj pilgrim traffic. For about 6-7 months of the year, it carried pilgrims from India, Pakistan, Ceylon, Bangladesh and Burma to Jeddah, while rest of the year, the ships were deployed for carrying cargo cum passenger service from India to the Red Sea ports including Aden and Djibouti.

But soon the Haj committee and certain sections of the Muslim community approached the Scindia Steam Navigation Company for berthing its steamers to carry this traffic as some of the Bengali Muslims were dissatisfied with the services of the agents of Mogul Line for trying to induce the Indian Government  to close the Calcutta port for pilgrim traffic. The Scindia Steam Navigation Company on the other hand was also tempted to get into this lucrative market. They built two new steamers at the cost of over Rs.50 lahks and started services in 1937.

The entry of the Indian Line into this traffic received tremendous support and the new steamer El Medina proved very popular! The Mogul Line soon started a rate war and fierce competition followed between the two companies in which the Scindia Steam Navigation Company incurred heavy losses as they were practically carrying pilgrims free. The Mogul Line too began to carry the pilgrims free of charge, providing them incentives like an umbrella and a container for carrying holy water. Several representations were made by leaders both outside and inside the Central Legislature to arrest this rate war. Finally Sir Muhamed Zafarullah Khan, the then commerce member intervened and brought about a settlement between the two companies by which they agreed to quote not less than Rs.115 as the return passage fare. Despite this agreement Mogul Line continued to charge low fares whenever the Scindia Steam Navigation Company’s steamer was on berth. Representations were made again in the Legislature which led to the fixation of uniform, stable and economic rates, but with the outbreak of World War II, pilgrim traffic closed down.

After the war Scindia Steam Navigation Company was unable to cope with the meager share of Haj traffic and soon withdrew. They strongly felt that the Indian Government had treated them unfairly by allotting a meager share of 25 percent of the traffic and 75 percent to Mogul Line. Thus another attempt by an Indian company to enter overseas trade was thwarted and abandoned. Meanwhile, Mogul Line acquired a new ship Islami in 1936 and two more modern ships Mohammadi in 1947 and Muzafari in 1948.

After nationalization in 1962, control of the Mogul Line passed to the Shipping Corporation of India (SCI) and finally in 1987 it merged with SCI. The Saudi company, Haji Abdullah Alireza & Co. Ltd., were agents of the Mogul Line in Jeddah.

However, most shipping companies operating haj service throughout the world had secondhand ships and the condition of majority of the Pilgrim Ships were  pathetic and deplorable. The overcrowding of Pilgrims onboard the ships was common as some greedy ship owners sought to make the most of the short but profitable season. There were only pilgrims on board, so many that the ship could hardly accommodate them. The shipping companies… had literally filled it to the brim without caring for the comfort of the passengers. On the decks, in the cabins, in all passageways, on every staircase, in the dining rooms of the first and second class, in the holds which had been emptied for the purpose and equipped with temporary ladders, in every available space and corner human beings were painfully herded together.

It is also worthmention that most of the pilgrims who traveled by sea were weak, fragile, old. Some of them died during voyage and were buried at sea with full merchant marine honour.

The Pakistan Government chartered passenger ships “Empire Orwell” and British India “Sardhana” and Bombay based Mughal Lines vessels “Islami” and “Muhammadi” in 1958 for the Pakistan – Jeddah run. The Sirdhana made some pilgrim voyages from both East & West Pakistan Ports to Jeddah. After that the Pan Islamic Steamship Co. Ltd. and later Crescent Shipping played a vital role in carrying the pilgrims from Karachi and Chittagong to Jeddah.

Some of the Pakistani passenger ships which carried pilgrims to Jeddah were as follows:

Safina-e-Arab (I)
Pan Islamic Steamship Co. Ltd.
Pan Islamic Steamship Co. Ltd.
Pan Islamic Steamship Co. Ltd.
Pan Islamic Steamship Co. Ltd.
Safina-e-Arab (II)
Pan Islamic Steamship Co. Ltd.
Crescent Shipping Lines Ltd. / PNSC

Their main operation was carrying the pilgrims but they also had some cargo capacity and were used as cargo cum passenger ships during off Haj season.

In early 1980’s the number of sailings started falling due to the competitiveness of air travel, with low cost flights, and sea borne trade started declining. Pakistani pilgrim ships became more and more older and required heavy repairs and maintenance. It was thus commercially not viable to run them anymore.

The last ship to perform Haj service was MV Shams (1994) (under PNSC) before it was scrapped. Thus the sea borne pilgrimage run effectively ended.


Visit to the sacred center of Islam, the Centre to which every Muslim turns his face in prayer, seems to many of the pilgrims like a visit to heaven. They seek God’s mercy, and in the hope of His acceptance, they seek to renew that covenant with Him and to be purged of their sins, casting off their past life as a man casts off an old suit of clothes, knowing that, in the words of the Prophet, he whose pilgrimage is accepted will return home “free from sin as on the day his mother bore him” The pilgrims find peace and the sense of purpose which they could find in no other place.

Travelling to Mecca and Madina was always difficult in the past. In the early days Muslims from all over the world traveled by Foot, Horses, Donkeys, Camels and by Boats across the Red Sea.

During the long journey some died of sickness, some were caught by desert storms, and some were looted on the way by organized armed bandits. Those who survived the extremes of heat and cold, hunger and thirst or attacks by Bedouin Marauder often succumbed to the plague. Survivors performed the Haj and it would take years for them to return back home safely.

With the passage of time and advance in technology, new mode of transportation came into being. Travelling by land gradually became easier with roads being constructed and more and more road transport available. At sea, Boats were replaced with steamships which moved faster and carried greater number of passengers.

The opening of Suez Canal in 1869 brought regular Steamer traffic from Europe – North & West Africa through Red Sea to the Port of Jeddah, some 55 miles from Mecca, thus reducing the passage time significantly over the previous route round the cape of Good Hope. With steamer traffic, it became commercially viable for shipping lines, throughout the world to operate for Haj, not withstanding that this trade was relatively short seasonal one and that these ships were generally put to other use during the “Off Season”.