CRUISE CONTROL

Oman 2015 | TRANSPORT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Mehdi Al Abduwani, CEO of National Ferries Company (NFC), on the strategic nature of Oman's maritime industry, and the potential for further cruise routes for tourists and residents alike.

Mehdi Al Abduwani
BIOGRAPHY
Mehdi Al Abduwani, the CEO of National Ferries Company, holds postgraduate qualifications from the Netherlands and did courses in various economic disciplines. Besides maritime transport, Mr. Al Abduwani's leadership expertise spans both the government and private sector as director general, chair, or member of the board of several entities in the domains of economic development, telecommunications, energy, IT, and finance.

How would you assess the expansion of Oman's maritime sector?

Oman's maritime sector is witnessing a transformational expansion, owing to the recent global developments in maritime trade and the efforts of the Sultanate's government in carrying out major investments in port development and the Duqm dry dock, bringing them to world-class standards. Another important factor in the expansion is the increasing significance of Oman's strategic maritime position, arising from the perceived risks for the world's oil supply crossing the Strait of Hormuz. This strategic position increased the importance of Oman's coast on the Arabian Sea as an alternate route to the Gulf. Oman's maritime sector also plays an integral part in boosting tourism, by facilitating transport, and as such, its expansion contributes to the economic diversification initiatives by the government. Additionally, in a step aimed at boosting local and foreign investment in services as well as other sectors and diversifying the national economy, the Special Economic Zone Authority at Duqm (SEZAD) recently required all companies interested in doing business in Duqm to register with SEZAD in a simplified process that would take no more than 48 hours.

What is the vision behind the establishment of National Ferries Company (NFC)?

Our vision is to be “a renowned world class, national carrier for maritime ferry services of people's choice contributing to Oman's sustainable development." The government of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said had a great vision pertaining to the need for ferry services in order to connect the various parts of the mainland with over 3,000 kilometers of coastal areas. This is particularly important in geographically isolated areas, such as Musandam, which poses many challenges because it is outside the borders of Oman and involves crossing border points three or four times. At NFC, we have achieved our goal of connecting the people and the homeland. Additionally, we mobilized more than 34,000 passengers and more than 5,500 vehicles on the Muscat-Khasab route in 2013. We are improving people's lives by connecting very small villages in Musandam, such as Lima. We are also contributing to sustainable development. Our statistics show that NFC's ferries transported labor and goods to Musandam and had an indirect effect of contributing to the efficient supply of goods, services, and labor to the markets in Musandam. As part of NFC's efforts to realize the vision, it embarked on coordinated initiatives involving the standardization of its processes, and as a result the International Standards Organization (ISO) awarded it the coveted ISO 9001:2008 and ISO 10002:2004 certifications.

How are you supporting the tourism industry?

Since the launch of its operations in 2008, NFC recorded increasing growth in passenger numbers, reaching a cumulative average growth rate of 30%. Between January and October 2014, we transported 62,831 passengers and 13,315 vehicles on board our ferries. The quality of the service we provide has contributed to boosting the diversity of our passengers' profiles. Typically, 25% of our passengers are residents of the Musandam governorate; we noticed increasing numbers of expatriate workers heading to Musandam, our main hub, for large infrastructure and development projects there. About 94% of our passengers were tourist-class customers, while those in business and first class were 4.5% and 1.5%, respectively. Additionally, significant growth in passengers is expected from the Shannah-Masirah route, which was launched on August 14, 2014 with eight trips daily. In three months between August and October we carried 28,937 passengers and 7,838 vehicles on this route.

Can you elaborate on the features of your new ferries?

NFC strives to provide the most suitable ferries to each area. For example, along the Muscat-Khasab route, which takes about five hours to cross 230 nautical miles (430 kilometers), which constitutes the longest internal fast-ferry trip worldwide, the company deploys high-speed craft (HSC), namely the Hormuz and Shinas, each with a speed of over 50 nautical miles per hour. In 1Q2014, the company added two new aluminum ferries called the Shannah and Jawharat Masirah. These are two Ro-Pax catamarans, each 45-meters long with a 1.5-meter draft, that can go up to 15 nautical miles per hour. NFC tasked Strategic Marine, a renowned international ferry-designing firm, to design the two ferries so that they specifically suit the shallow depth of the Shannah-Masirah route. Each vessel has the capacity to accommodate 154 seated passengers, in addition to 38 cars, or a mixed-vehicle combination of four trucks and 22 cars.