Extortionists set sights on Karachi fish harbour
KARACHI, Jan 23: Dozens of seafood processing units and exporters on Wednesday warned of a ‘strike for an indefinite period’ against extortionists who they said had now set their sights on the Karachi fish harbour after targeting traders and industrialists across the metropolis.
The warning set alarm bells ringing in government quarters and security administration and the functionaries succeeded in persuading the representatives of exporters to put off the strike for a few days over assurances of beefing up security at the harbour.
The meeting was called by the Karachi Fisheries Harbour Authority (KFHA) and was attended among others by police officers and office-bearers of the Fishermen’s Cooperative Society (FCS).
The representatives of the Pakistan Seafood Processors and Exporters Association sounded little convinced after the meeting and said the strike had been put on hold only for a day and they would go ahead with their protest plan if the situation did not change for the better.
“More than 40 processing units are operating at the Karachi fish harbour,” said Iftikhar Zaidi, the chairman of the association.
“And for a year, the situation is getting worse with each passing day. Our members are receiving threats to pay extortion ranging from Rs1 million to Rs10 million. Our workers are routinely picked up, harassed and in some cases even beaten up,” he said.
He said the law-enforcement agencies were well aware of the people behind the extortionist gangs but they had not taken any action against them despite repeated complaints.
He said the exporters had unanimously decided to suspend all production activities from Wednesday and go on strike. “After today’s meeting and earlier assurance by the FCS authorities, we have put our plan on hold only till Thursday. If the situation doesn’t improve we’ll go ahead with our protest plan announced earlier,” said Mr Zaidi.
The KFHA acknowledged the existence of the threat. In an official communiqué to the Sindh livestock and fisheries secretary a few months ago, the authority reiterated its demand for regular deployment of Rangers.
It also cited growing incidents of ‘extortion, abduction, drugs selling, display of sophisticated weapons, illegal activities, snatching of mobile phones, money and other valuables at the harbour’. However, the concerns have not yet been addressed.
“After today’s meeting we have set up a committee to look into exporters’ concerns and suggest measures,” said the MD of the KFHA Abdul Ghani Jokhio.
“The committee has an officer from the Karachi police’s anti-extortion cell as a member, a senior KFHA official and a representative of exporters. We will review the situation after a week or 10 days with hope the situation will gradually turn better.”
A number of illegal cabins and concrete structures inscribed with names of those who wield influence in the area pose a serious security threat to the harbour.
These encroachments provided a safe haven to wanted criminals, armed gangsters, drug peddlers and anti-social elements in the absence of effective security arrangements, it transpired on Wednesday when an operation was launched to clear navigational channel of inactive vessels.
Besides growing incidents of snatching and threats of extortion, land- grabbing has also emerged as a key factor in the deteriorating security at the harbour.
“We have put our plans before the exporters and harbour officials,” said SP Haseeb Baig of Keamari town. “The anti-extortion cell has also been taken on board. We have encouraged exporters to lodge complaints with police. If they avoid doing this, the situation will not change on its own,” he said.