BETWEEN WIND & WATER

Oman 2015 | TRANSPORT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to HE Said bin Hamdoon bin Saif Al Harthy, Undersecretary of Ports and Maritime Affairs, on the important role that the Sultanate's maritime industry is playing in promoting trade and economic activity.

HE Said bin Hamdoon bin Saif Al Harthy
BIOGRAPHY
HE Said bin Hamdoon bin Saif Al Harthy has been the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Transport and Communications for Ports and Maritime Affairs since November 2007. He chairs the Boards of Directors of the International Maritime College Oman, and the National Ferries Company, and is also a member of the Board of Directors of Sohar Industrial Port and the Special Economic Zone Authority at Duqm. He had an extensive military career, serving in the Royal Air Force of Oman (RAFO). He graduated from the Royal Air Force College (RAFC) Cranwell, with the rank of second lieutenant, and also graduated as a pilot from Masirah Airbase. He has participated in several courses including the Flight Instructors Course (RAF.UK), the Command and Staff Course (US), and the Royal College of Defence Studies Course (RCDS). Other titles he has had include as Chairman of the Board of Oman Air and Director of Operations for the RAFO.

How will the strategic development at Oman's maritime ports boost the economy?

Omani ports will play a significant role in the economy. Starting from the north, Musandam is a medium-sized port. Then we have Shinas, which is currently under review. We also have a large port in Sohar, as well as Port Sultan Qaboos. Of course, there is also Duqm, which is under the Authority of Duqm, and then there is Salalah. We are thinking not only of the economy, but also the social aspect in terms of the employment opportunities it will provide. We expect 90% of freight passing through the ports to be international, and for it to contribute greatly to the economy of the Sultanate.

How do these ports complement each other?

Port Sultan Qaboos, which is in Muscat, will be a city port for tourism. Meanwhile, Sohar's role is a combination of containers, general cargo, and petrochemicals. The containers moving from Port Sultan Qaboos will be going to Sohar. Duqm will be a general port, as well as a major facility for the petrochemical and minerals sectors. We hope for Salalah to be engaged in the transshipment of containers because of its location and available space. Due to the Salalah Free Zone and the Salalah Industrial Zone, general cargo from the port is growing rapidly. There is a study currently underway at the Ministry to establish the optimum way for the ports to operate in a complementary fashion without duplication.

How will the Omani railway connect this port network?

This is a vital consideration, as the railway will connect Sohar Port to the GCC as well as to the important ports of Duqm and Salalah, before heading on to Muscat. We are conducting a study to find the best way to connect these major ports to the station. In fact, we plan for the railway to run directly into the ports, and the first to be connected will be Sohar, Duqm, and then Salalah.

How would you assess foreign participation?

Rotterdam and its long experience is a prime example of how important it is to seek input on the management of a port from those in the know. We are benefiting not only in terms of the ports, but also from observing the Netherlands to boost our own experience and technology base.

When will the ports be running at full capacity?

Each port is different. Port Sultan Qaboos is at full capacity, and hence its relocation to Sohar, where today's capacity utilization rate for petrochemicals is reaching 80% and is at roughly 30% for containers. Its current capacity is 800,000 containers, and it currently handles around 200,000. If the container business grows it could expand to 3.5 million, which would require a further 10 to 15 years to complete. The port of Salalah reached the 3.5 million container mark in 2013, and this is about 75% of its capacity, while on general cargo it reached almost full capacity due to limited space, meaning it is at 90% capacity today. At the moment, we are expanding the general cargo infrastructure. The port still has the capacity for some 1.5 million containers with the current space.

Can Oman be a hub for maritime transport?

For logistics, given our location this is possible. However, at the same time we need more foreign investment, and are working with government agencies to make the process easier and faster for companies. Of course, the completion of the railway link will provide the makings of an excellent hub, especially in terms of Salalah, from where the shipping of containers to the GCC will become easier. Moreover, the highways and airports will make Oman an important trade hub in the GCC.