Port State Control: Who needs it?
January 15, 2013
— A single glance at the tiller arms of the typical dhow secured alongside the
Dhow Wharves at Dubai Creek will tell you that there’s no Port State Control
here in the United Arab Emirates.
splintered wooden crossbars on the rudder-head are pulled by ragged ropes
leading through crude chocks to a drum on the steering wheel shaft. It’s no
wonder that these dhows never leave port during the monsoon season, although
rotten ropes can part even under normal strain.
no wonder that even the boldest, most entrepreneurial P&I club will never cover
a dhow or its cargo. But judging from the round-the-clock loading on these
wharves, and the continual coming and going of the dhows, running without cover
is a small price to pay for the profits to be had.
clue that Port State Control in Dubai isn’t as rigorous it appears, is the
ubiquitous sea toilet, a small round enclosure off the dhow’s bustle stern
secured to the hull with ropes. These al fresco toilets, besides offering the
sea — or the Dubai Creek — as the ship’s sanitary holding tank, allow the user
to amuse himself by gazing out over the bundles and piles of cargo at the
well-dressed Russian and Arab shoppers hurrying along the city’s streets.
existence of the Dhow Wharves, which stretches for miles without fencing or
gates, with goods in bales and boxes and used cars waiting for export lining
the narrow lanes, shows how unregulated sea commerce is in Dubai. Most of the
goods imported into the Horn of Africa embark here. And although an occasional small
customs office can be spotted on the waterfront, I’ve never seen one manned.
There are no customs duties in Dubai, so the government has little impetus to
control the flow of goods and a great deal to gain from the bustling business
for the Iran trade embargo, here is where it breaks down completely. Just 12 hours
away, even for the slowest dhow, Iran is the destination for at least half of
the dhows that line the Dhow Wharves. A hundred tons of uranium could pass across
these crowded wharves, disguised as common cargo, and into dhows for shipment
to Iranian centrifuges. Whether the Dubai government cares is an open question,
although the Emirs who own the country take pains to control the residents’
lives in many other strange and sometimes inconsistent ways. For example,
dating websites are prohibited in a city filled with brothels masquerading as
for PSC’s legal justification of protecting the lives of seamen by controlling
the condition of ships leaving a country’s ports — upon which the doctrine of
Port State Control was founded — Dubai has no apparent interest in protecting
the lives of the Indian crews on these invariably Indian-owned vessels. For
that matter, this is where Indians, Pakistanis, and other foreigners come to
toil for near-slave wages, and where the confiscation of their passports for
unpaid debts can make them indentured servants.
workers (fewer than 10 percent of Dubai residents are citizens) are the
foundation that supports the Emerald City that Dubai was becoming before it was
detoured by the financial crash. Now, the Indian laborers and Asian sex
masseuses go about their work in the shadows of half-completed spiral
skyscrapers and under a sky filled with construction cranes that never move.
each day, the dhows come and go. Their ancient Caterpillar engines spew black smoke
and enjoy a freedom of the seas that, for the rest of the developed world, is
only a fond memory of the days before Port State Control.