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Oman’s maritime trade not impacted by COVID-19 measures

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MUSCAT, MARCH 15 - Cargo flows in and out of Oman’s three principal gateways at Sohar, Duqm and Salalah continue uninterrupted despite measures introduced by the government to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). High-level officials at the three hubs contacted by the Observer confirmed that the measures, most notably a month-long moratorium on cruise ships calling at Omani ports, have no impact on merchant ships carrying maritime cargo – which forms the lifeblood of the Omani economy.


Reggy Vermeulen, CEO – Port of Duqm, said the maritime hub, which primarily services the oil and gas fields of central Oman, as well as projects coming up within the adjoining Special Economic Zone (SEZ), is fully operational. “We are continuing with our efforts to ensure sustained and uninterrupted port operations to support Oman’s development over the long term,” he stated. It’s also business as usual at Port of Salalah, the Sultanate’s transhipment and logistics hub overlooking the Indian Ocean, according to Mohammed al Mashani, General Manager – Corporate Affairs. With the exception of cruise traffic, which remains suspended for the next four weeks, container and other general cargo vessels continue to call at the gateway unimpeded, he said.


In comments to the Observer, Al Mashani said a quarantine team from the Ministry of Health is now operating round the clock at the port to provide all pandemic-related assistance. Ships calling at the port are required to furnish a Maritime Declaration of Health covering the health status and condition of crew on board. Further intensive precautions come into play if the declaration reveals visits by the ship or the crew to the five countries covered by the preventive measures, notably China, South Korea, Italy, Egypt and Iran.


“It is only when the quarantine team gives its green-light that our staff board the ship for the commencement of operations. Of course, to prevent exposure to any infection, our personnel have access to sanitizer liquid, gloves and other protective gear,” he said.


Since the outset of the outbreak, Port of Salalah has adopted Level-1 precautions to keep employees safe from possible exposure to Covid-19. This is in addition to awareness sessions, a halt to business travel, and minimal person-to-person interactions. “We have also done away with water dispensers as a precaution, and have put in place bottled water instead.


An official spokesperson for Sohar Port and Freezone said commercial cargo vessels continue to load and discharge at the hub without a hitch. Nevertheless, strict measures are in place to keep port user staff from potential exposure to the virus.


The spokesperson explained: “All vessels have been advised to report sick crewmembers and fresh crew who have arrived within the last 16 days. Staff interacting with crew on vessels have been instructed to use masks and gloves when on board a ship. Crew change and shore leave is not allowed for crew coming from heavily affected countries as reported by Ministry of Health. In the case of any sick person(s) being reported on board a ship, the vessel will not be allowed to come into the port, instead, Health Inspector from MoH team will first go on board to assess the situation and patient. Coordination with critical service providers and agents has already been put in place and are monitored to ensure the utilisation of appropriate preventative and business continuity measures.”


Advisory notifications have been communicated through all respective channels including social media when required and this includes updates from concerned government entities, the official noted. “We make sure the port is operating and will be operating.


Our first responsibility is us exporting and importing goods from and into Oman. The business continuity plan at SOHAR has been activated and we continue to ensure that all safety precautions have been set in place.


Moreover, all employees at Sohar Port and Freezone have been informed about their roles and responsibilities regarding the virus outbreak and all relevant stakeholders, such as terminals and service providers, have also been informed about all Covid-19 measures. Sohar Port and Freezone maintains regular contact with the Ministry of Health to provide continuous updates to all its clients on the overall status,” the official added.


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