State-owned coastal maritime transportation services provider National Ferries Company (NFC) has urged Omani businesses to make the most of its world-class, high-speed ferries to enhance trade and commercial links with destinations along its expanding network. The appeal came at a forum held under the patronage of Dr Ahmed bin Mohammed al Futaisi, Minister of Transport and Communications, at the Cultural Club in Qurum on Monday night. A panel discussion on Public Transport featured representatives from Mwasalat, National Ferries, and the Ministry of Transport and Communications.
The deliberations, moderated by well-known Omani journalist Yusuf al Hooti, underscored the importance of enhanced engagement with the business community and general population with the aim of supporting the optimum utilisation of the nation’s public transport infrastructure.
Later in comments to the Observer, Mehdi bin Mohammed al Abduwani (pictured), CEO — National Ferries Company, lamented the tepid uptake of the company’s high-speed coastal ferries primarily by the private sector in the delivery of goods and services to markets serviced by NFC.
NFC-owned and operated ferries currently serve as many as seven ports and towns along the Omani coast, as well as operate to three destinations across the Hormuz Strait in Iran, notably Qeshm Island, Bandar Abbas and Chabahar Port.
The latter destinations, which connect with Khasab in Musandam Governorate on the Omani side, were added last year amid heightened expectations that the cross-border ferry services would contribute to enhanced coastal trade and maritime links.
“These three important ports in Iran were added last year in the face of significant challenges, including international sanctions in force at the time, high insurance costs, and so on,” said Al Abduwani. “But we succeeded in overcoming these challenges because of the potential for trade in goods and services across the border. After all, Iran is a big market and an important source, for among other things, the supply of vegetables and foodstuff. But unfortunately, we don’t see much of an uptake from traders, business people or even small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in making the most of NFC’s ferry services to these destinations,” he noted.
“National Ferries wants to emphasise that there is ample unutilised capacity on our ferries, subsidised by the government, that is available to Omani businesses and organisations to make good use of. We are calling for the optimum utilisation of these services,” the CEO stressed.
“We deployed ample capacity, particularly between Muscat and Musandam, in response to calls from the private sector for these services. But honestly, we don’t see significant demand from the commercial sector for the delivery of goods and services,” he further explained.
In contrast, however, passenger demand for its ferry services continues to grow by leaps and bounds, according to Al Abduwani. Since it launched operations in 2008, more than 220,000 people have travelled on its modern fleet, the vast proportion on the Shannah-Masirah route. In fact, this busy sector generates around 80 – 82 per cent of total passenger demand, according to the CEO, noting that the company is on track to surpassing the 250,000 passenger throughput mark before the end of this year.
Also in NFC’s sights is a possible three-way, triangular service that links Musandam Governorate with Iran, on the one hand, and destinations in the United Arab Emirates, on the other.
“We are still in discussion with authorities in the UAE in this regard, with either Ras Al Khaimah or Dubai being the intended port of call,” said Al Abduwani.
“Where Dubai is concerned, the issue is not so much to do with berth availability and so on, but with the physical specs of our ferries. As our vessels are made of aluminium, they require special berthing and pontoon facilities to be handled at Dubai. We are hoping after the Eid holiday to visit Khasab and also to meet with the Ras Al Khaimah Port authorities (to further this objective),” he added.