By Conrad Prabhu - MUSCAT — The state-owned National Ferries Company (NFC) plans to introduce a high speed ferry-based service linking Khasab, at the northernmost tip of the Sultanate, with Bandar Abbas in Iran across the Strait of Hormuz. According to NFC Chairman and CEO Mehdi al Abdwani, the new service — which promises to enhance maritime and trade links between the two neighbours — is expected to be launched before the end of this year.
“We are ready to start services between Khasab and Bandar Abbas as soon as we get the green-light. The service could commence at any time this year,” Al Abdwani said in comments to journalists during a cruise hosted by NFC for German and Omani business leaders aboard the high speed ferry Shinas yesterday.
The planned service is a key part of NFC’s vision to develop a comprehensive coastal maritime transportation system that will link major towns and coastal communities along the Sultanate’s lengthy coastline. Linkages by high speed ferry are also envisaged with Dubai, among other destinations, aimed at boosting tourism, commerce and maritime links.
Significantly, ramp infrastructure is already in place at both Khasab on the Oman side, and Bandar Abbas on the Iranian side, allowing for the launch of services at short notice, the Chairman said. Given the short 62-mile distance between the two ports, up to three daily runs are envisaged by the high speed ferry when the service is operational, he noted.
Commenting on the economical significance of the proposed service, Al Abdwani said: “There is a big potential for trade and business between the two sides. On the Khasab side, we understand there is a major hypermarket under development. State-run tourism development vehicle Omran is also building hotels on the marine front in Khasab, which will support tourism given its tranquil location and beautiful fjords. Besides, certain arrangements are already in place to ease the movement of nationals from both countries.”
He added that the high speed ferry service would provide an alternative to the present trend of people shuttling between Khasab and Bandar Abbas in small boats — a trend that is not only time-consuming, but also risky. “The trip by fast ferry takes only one hour and 40 minutes, whereas the ride by small boat takes five hours.”
In future, NFC envisions Khasab as a ‘transit hub’ between Muscat and Bandar Abbas, with traders and visitors stopping over at Khasab en route to Iran.
The Chairman and CEO also outlined a number of initiatives by NFC to grow is service network for the benefit of coastal communities. One such initiative centres on plans for the acquisition of two new ferries to shuttle between Shannah on the Sultanate’s mainland with Masirah Island. As part of the move, which won the Board’s approval last week, contracts will be awarded for design and construction of two high-tech ferries, each roughly 45-metre long with a capacity of 300 passengers apiece.
Also given the nod is a proposal to introduce a maritime taxi service that will be deployed off the Sultanate’s northern coast and shuttle between the coastal villages of Dibba and Lima in Musandam Governorate. An initial fleet of three water taxis, each of 18 metres length and capable of speeds of 25 knots, is envisaged.
Meanwhile, NFC is also gearing to launch a new service between Khasab and Shinas.
Operations will commence as soon as ramp infrastructure in Shinas is completed. NFC’s newest high speed ferry Sawqarah will be deployed on the Khasab-Shinas-Khasab route.
He said the company’s vehicle transportation service, which was launched on the Muscat-Khasab sector, has received a robust response.
“After investing in our own ramps which came into operation from March 2011, we are witnessing a big jump in passenger and vehicle traffic on board the high speed ferries. Each trip attracts more than 100 passengers plus 30-35 cars,” he added.