TBY talks to Mehdi Al Abduwani, CEO of National Ferries Company (NFC), on coastal transport services and fleet expansion.

Mehdi Al Abduwani
Mehdi Al Abduwani, the CEO of the National Ferries Company (NFC), holds a post-graduate diploma in Development Planning Techniques from the Netherlands and took part in several specialized graduate scientific courses and advanced programs in Financial Analysis Methods, Fiscal Policies, Economics, and Corporate Development Strategies. Al Abduwani’s experience spans both government and private sector positions in economic planning, privatization, telecommunications, and investment banking.

How has National Ferries Company (NFC) developed since its inception in 2008?

NFC is a marine transport company established in 2008 to provide services for Omani citizens and residents linking the long coastal areas of the Sultanate by sea. The high-speed ferry service was initially intended to cover 12 ports nationwide, in addition to other economically feasible international destinations in the region. The number of intended ports of call has since increased to 14. NFC launched the initial passenger-only service from Muscat to Khasab in August 2008, upon the delivery of the Shinas catamaran. Vehicle transportation was not possible at that stage as the support infrastructure, such as vehicle ramps at destination ports, was not in place. Since we launched vehicle transport services between Muscat and Khasab, we have seen a steady growth in passenger traffic. We have brought into service three new vessels: the Hormuz, Sawqrah, and Al Hallaniyat. The second route from Khasab to Lima commenced in October 2011, utilizing the medium- to high-speed ferry, a Sawqrah-class vessel. Subsequently, the Shinas-Khasab-Shinas service was launched in May 2012, with passengers and vehicles catered to from day one.

What has been the response to NFC's offering in Oman?

Passenger throughput has shown steady growth since the inception of the services. Annual figures for the last three years, from 2010, 2011, and 2012, indicated actual throughput of 10,615, 19,820, and 34,782 passengers, respectively. In terms of load factor, gradual growth was the norm annually, with 2012 registering a 50% load factor. We are likely to see continued annual growth with further marketing and sales efforts from the management. The first four months of 2013 witnessed an upsurge in load factor, rising to 70%. On a similar note, we have seen growth in the carriage of vehicles; 2012 registered 113% growth in “ro-ro" vehicle movement, at 5,568 units, compared to 2,610 units in 2011.

What are NFC's current routes, and what opportunities are there to expand?

NFC is currently in the process of building up the infrastructure for high-speed ferry operations in the Port of Dibba in order to facilitate the launch of potential services connecting Dibba with the Musandam region (Khasab) and the Al Batinah region (Shinas). NFC is currently in the process of finalizing a feasibility study on an international route linking ports in Oman with Iran. Potential lines could be Khasab-Bandar Abbas and/or Qeshm in the near future, in line with the opening up of the transit corridor under the Ashgabat Convention between Oman, Iran, Qatar, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. High-speed ferry operations in the South of Oman present another possibility, linking Salalah to Halaniyat Island or Hasik ash-Shuwaimiyah to Halaniyat Island, for example.

How does NFC support the government's efforts to encourage tourism in the Sultanate as part of Vision 2020?

NFC takes an active role in supporting the government's vision to encourage tourism in the Sultanate of Oman as part of Vision 2020. Through the scheduled trips, our services showcase the majestic coastline of Oman to discerning tourists, locals, and expatriates. Omani culture and hospitality is present from the moment the guest steps on board to enjoy the excellence in service culture and the characteristics of Oman. Our marketing and sales efforts overseas—at international conferences, exhibitions, and roadshows—showcase not only our ferry services, but also Oman as a unique destination. As part of its corporate social responsibility, NFC continues to sponsor various social, education, and sporting events.

What is the significance of the planned conversion of Port Sultan Qaboos for NFC?

The transformation of Port Sultan Qaboos into a tourism-based, mixed-use waterfront destination provides opportunities for NFC in its future development and growth. Muscat draws the bulk of Oman's tourist visits; the port is the natural choice for transformation into a tourism gateway. This will be especially true after this consolidation of tourism-related activities in one location. The dedicated berth and terminal for NFC augurs well—it provides an opportunity for an enhanced experience for passengers and ease of vehicle passage for NFC customers. Muscat's hospitality, retail, and food and beverage development complements and provides potential customers for NFC and promotes the development of cruises in the vicinity, which is part of NFC's strategy going forward.