International Hydrographic Obligations and Role of Pakistan Navy Hydrographic Department


Lt Cdr Zobia Zaman PN
Public Relations Officer
Pakistan Navy,

As a member of UN and International Maritime Organization (IMO), a coastal state has numerous marine related obligations governed by international conventions. One such instrument is the convention for the ‘Safety of Life at Sea’ (SOLAS) which is an international maritime treaty. This convention sets minimum safety standards in the construction, equipment and operation of ships as well as the duties and services to be provided by national hydrographic offices. Pakistan along with other 162 states is a signatory to SOLAS and its Regulation 9 of Chapter V states that ‘Contracting Governments undertake to arrange for the collection and compilation of hydrographic data and the publication, dissemination and keeping up to date of all nautical information necessary for safe navigation’, thus compelling all the maritime stakeholders to join hands in raising awareness regarding the importance of hydrographic related activities towards sustainable growth of national economies through enhanced trade and exploration of marine resources.

Primarily, hydrography is the process of collecting depth data of sea. Surveying for this depth data leads to charting/mapping of rivers, lakes and oceans giving information about seafloor shape. Typical final product of a hydrographic survey is a nautical chart/ map that shows depth, shape of the seabed/river bed and other features/ information such as rocks, underwater obstructions and wrecks for the primary purpose of safe navigation. In addition to supporting safe and efficient navigation of ships in the form of nautical charts Hydrography also underpins almost every activity associated with the sea such as safety of navigation, economic development, oceanographic research, environmental protection, ports and harbor construction, marine resource exploitation, integrated coastal zone management, disaster management, tourism and maritime boundary delimitation between neighboring countries.The hydrographic data however, is collected by using various state of the art gadgets which include satellite positioning systems and different type of depth measuring systems working on the principles of sound and laser ranging. These systems are integrated and mounted on sea and air platforms.

Whereas in Pakistan, Pakistan Navy Hydrographic Department (PNHD) conducts hydrographic surveys of coastal and offshore waters of Pakistan and publishes nautical charts and other relevant publications. The department was established in 1949 and represents Pakistan at all national and international hydrography related forums. PNHD is based in Karachi and is headed by Hydrographer Pakistan Navy (HPN). PNHD is mainly comprised of hydrographic survey ships, nautical chart production including distribution setup,national hydrographic data bank and a school to impart hydrographic training. Pakistan in this regard has two survey ships i.e. BEHR PAIMA and PNS BEHR MASAH. BEHR MASAH is the latest induction which has state of the art survey systems and it is one of the most modern survey platforms of the region. These ships collect and process survey data of both coastal and deeper areas of Pakistani waters. This finalized data is then shared with chart production setup where data scrutiny and various quality checks are conducted before using it for production of nautical Charts. The setup maintains two production lines of charts i.e. Paper Chart and Electronic chart. Electronic charts are published to fulfill the IMO requirements for modern shipping whereas paper charts are maintained for meeting backup and traditional navigational requirements. In addition to charts, the department also publishes various related publication annually. After production, these charts and publications are distributed through national and international outlets. In addition to housing hydrography setup, this department is also shouldering the responsibility of Coordinator of NAVAREA-IX since 1976. NAVAREA IX consists of 16 countries of Gulf, Red Sea and North Arabian Sea region. PNHD coordinates transmission of all information which is a safety concern for the vessels transiting in the area to give early information to the mariner in order to ensure safety of the ship/ craft. This is noteworthy and speaks volumes for Pakistan’s commitment to support safety of mariners at sea.

As per United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Pakistan is entrusted with the responsibility for hydrographic surveys and production of nautical charts/ maps of its waters in order to furnish accurate nautical information to the mariners. Fulfilling its international obligations, Pakistan Navy Hydrographic Department produces the requisite nautical information and digital charts to ensure safe navigation through the busy shipping lanes within our Area of Responsibility in the North Arabian Sea.Moreover, Pakistan Navy’s Hydrography Departmenthas completed modern surveys of all offshore areas having less than 200m depth i.e. critical to navigation. Likewise, updation of surveys of deeper waters i.e. having depths greater than 200 m is being undertaken progressively. Based on these surveys, the department has then published a series of 39 charts to cover the entire coast and offshore area of Pakistan. The department emphasized on identification of sites for new ports and other maritime infrastructure. Initial surveys and feasibility studies conducted by the department played vital role in the construction of Port Muhammad Bin Qasim, Gwadar, Ormara, Chalna (East Pakistan/Bangladesh) etc.

Nevertheless, being an important stakeholder, PNHD remained attached with Extension of Pakistan’s Continental Shelf project right from its inception. Scientists from National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) and PNHD worked together for various phases of this claim. Pakistan submitted its claim for the extension of Continental Shelf to UN Commission on the Limits of Continental Shelf (UNCLCS) on 30 Apr 09. As a result, an approximate area of 50000 square Kms has been awarded by the commission which can be utilized for resource exploration. With this approval, Pakistan has become the first country in North Indian Ocean to have successfully achieved extension in outer limits of continental shelf. PNHD played pivotal role in successful resolution of maritime boundaries with Myanmar, Iran and Oman. Moreover, joint survey of Sir Creek by Pakistan/PNHD and India in 2007 was also carried out to support resolution of maritime boundary dispute between the two nations. Apart from hydrographic surveys at sea, PNHD has conducted various inland surveys e.g. surveys of dams for storage capacity and river Indus (Nowshera to DawoodKhel, Mianwali) to support future studies of inland water transportation project.

To conclude, Pakistan Navy is aptly fulfilling the international hydrographic obligations, with an aim to create awareness about the importance of hydrography, its role towards blue economy and to ensure availability of updated information for mariners who traverse through the busy shipping lanes along Pakistan’s coast.

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