Oman’s first major passenger cruise turnaround — a complex operation involving over a dozen local government and international agencies working hand in hand in seamless coordination — has been hailed as a thumping success by some of the key players engaged in this maiden endeavour.
Global Ports Holding (GPH), the world’s largest cruise operator which, along with local Omani shipping agency Khimji Ramdas Shipping, was instrumental in placing Muscat Port front and centre in this landmark exercise, said the event attested to Port Sultan Qaboo’s potential to serve as a turnaround port in the region.
Expressions of praise have also come in from, among others, Marafi — the Sultanate’s newest port operator — which described the successful turnaround as a “milestone along Port Sultan Qaboos’s path to cruise homeport status”.
Likewise, Intercruises, a global cruise services provider, hailed the exercise, with its assortment of stakeholders and players, as akin to a “well-oiled machine” that augured well for future turnarounds at Muscat’s upcoming tourism and heritage port.
In a tweet, Dr Ahmed al Futaisi Minister of Transport and Communications said the success of the turnaround will “enrich” tourism in the Sultanate. He applauded the efforts of the various government, public and private sector entities — Omani and international — that played an integral part in the successful execution of the exercise.
As many as 1,800 international cruise passengers — hailing primarily from Britain — participated in the historic turnaround — a term used in maritime terminology to refer to a cruise liner ending a cruise at a given port while commencing a new voyage at the same gateway.
It entails the disembarkation of its passengers and their departure by flight out of the country, and the simultaneous arrival of a new lot of passengers ahead of their embarkation on board the cruise vessel at the start of the a voyage.
Given the numbers involved — around 900 departing guests and a similar number of arriving passengers — the exercise necessitated faultless interfacing between the multiple agencies, both at Muscat International Airport and Port Sultan Qaboos. Contributing to the flawless delivery of the turnaround were, among others, Royal Oman Police — Passports & Residence, ROP Customs; Oman Airports, Oman Air SATS, Ministry of Tourism; Marafi, Khimji Ramdas Shipping, and TRAVCO.
At the centre of the turnaround during November 28-29, 2018 was MV Marella Discovery — a luxury liner belonging to TUI Cruises, a Germany-based, joint venture cruise line of the German tourist firm, TUI AG and the American cruise line operator, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. TUI chartered three chartered Boeing Dreamliner jets to ferry the passengers in and out of Muscat to their destinations in the United Kingdom.
In comments to the Observer, Dr Ahmed al Abri, CEO — Marafi (part of ASYAD Group), said the turnaround, viewed against a robust uptick in cruise calls to Oman’s shores, signalled “exciting times ahead” for the Sultanate’s burgeoning cruise tourism industry.
The turnaround represents a “paramount milestone on the path to home port status” for Port Sultan Qaboos,” he said. “It also demonstrates that not only the port, but also other key stakeholders such as the airport, ROP, Ministry of Tourism, shipping agencies, and so on, are working in harmony and are committed to the cause.”
Marafi, which oversaw the berthing and mooring arrangements for Marella Discovery, says the positioning of Port Sultan Qaboos as a cruise port is part of its mandate. “We are working hand in hand (with Omran as the master developer of the Mina Al Sultan Qaboos Waterfront Project) to ensure the waterfront and port are perfectly complementing each other,” said Dr Al Abri.
Also pledging support for Muscat’s home-porting ambitions is Intercruises, the global enterprise offering turnaround, shore excursion, port agency and hotel services to the cruise industry. The Spanish-headquartered group had an important role in the smooth execution of the passenger turnaround in Muscat last month.
“Our role was to coordinate and serve as a link between the cruise line, TUI Aviation and local the port agency and other ground teams, making sure all client requirements were fulfilled. We worked for months in advance in order to ensure a successful operation,” said Damian Ricardo Garrido, General Agency Key Account Coordinator — Intercruises.
Garrido said he marvelled at the smooth manner with which different government and private agencies worked together to pull off this intricate exercise. “Operation-wise, everyone worked like a well-oiled machine, with all the teams and their individual members working as a whole to achieve an optimal result. With these results, no one could predict this was the first time Muscat had hosted a turnaround operation of this magnitude,” he said.
Indeed, the successful outcome bodes well for the positioning of Muscat as a homeport for international cruise ships, Garrido stressed. “Without doubt, the efficiency, flexibility, adaptability and (infrastructure support provided by) the authorities are solid arguments for that goal,” he noted.
Intercruises, said the executive, will continue to support future turnarounds scheduled in the Sultanate. “We see great potential in Oman as a whole and Muscat in particular. We have had a local team based here for some time, so seeing the hard work pay off like this is extremely rewarding. We hope our partnership will grow in the near future.”
Great port community
UK-headquartered Global Ports Holding, billed as the biggest cruise operator globally, also vowed to support Muscat’s homeporting aspirations. “Without any doubt, this has been a great step to position Port Sultan Qaboos as a potential turnaround port in the region,” said Serafin Blazquez, Port Services Director. “As the world’s largest cruise operator, we are happy to share our port expertise with growing ports for the benefit of the cruise industry. In Muscat, you have a great port community willing to develop this kind of operations and they can count on Global Ports Holding for (support).”
Global Ports Holding’s role in the recent turnaround operation in Muscat was limited to serving as an “external observer that could see the operation with different eyes and to assist in improving future cruise operations”, said Blazquez.
“It’s important to continue working in the same direction and with the same mindset in terms of quality service, because the needs of ruise lines are always evolving and every day presents a new challenge in this industry. As an additional comment for passengers going on excursions, it would be necessary to develop a wider package of excursions as well as undertake investments in some areas of the city such the market to improve the guest experience during their visit to Oman.”
“I sincerely would like to congratulate Port Sultan Qaboos for this great achievement, but also to the entire local population in Muscat for their hospitality that made us feel at home during our visit,” Blazquez added in conclusion.