Restrictive visa regimes may pose problems

With the crew-members of mv Suez now headed for Karachi, the bigger question remains, given the restrictive visa regimes that India and Pakistan have for each other, as to the fate of the six Indians on board.

After being rescued on Sunday by Pakistan Navy's warship, PNS Babur, from the sinking merchant vessel on which they were held captive by Somali pirates for 10 months, the crew was transferred to PNS Zulfiqar on Monday evening for onward journey to Karachi. The entire exercise has been christened by the Pakistan Navy as “Operation Umeed-i-Nau” and Chief of Naval Staff Noman Bashir briefed Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani about it on Monday.

The transfer was necessitated by the fact that PNS Babur was pulled out of the coalition navies patrolling the waters in the Gulf of Aden to escort mv Suez to the Salalah port in Oman. Since PNS Babur had to return to the coalition navies' patrol, the crew members were transferred to PNS Zulfiqar.

Being a warship, PNS Zulfiqar cannot enter any other country's port. Therefore, the mv Suez crew is being brought to Karachi instead of Oman as planned.

While human rights activist Ansar Burney was hopeful of putting the entire crew on flights to their respective countries soon after reaching Karachi, there is a fear that the Indians may meet a fate similar to that of their Pakistani counterparts, who were rescued by the Indian Navy and stranded in Mumbai since March this year.

The five Pakistani sailors rescued by the Indian Navy from Somali pirates have been awaiting consular access for the past three months and are expected to get it on June 28. Even after consular access is provided, the process of verification takes months. Since they do not have Indian visas, these five sailors have been confined to the Yellow Gate police station, Mumbai, since March.