Oman High-speed ferry service launched
Four years on since the commencement of the project to introduce Oman's and the region's first high speed ferry service, the official launching of the National Ferries Company's Shinas' maiden voyage from Port Sultan Qaboos to Bandar Khairan heralds the arrival of revolutionary new mode of public transportation for Oman and the Arabian Gulf region.
Dignitaries, executives from the travel trade and major airlines, press and media personnel and guests set off yesterday morning aboard the world's fastest diesel-powered vehicle ferry on a 45 nautical-mile round trip from Muscat's premier port, along the nearby coast, up to Bandar Khairan and back. With all the creature comforts of a truly luxurious water-jet powered catamaran that seats all of its passengers -- tourist, first class and VIP -- in spacious comfort and which sports a host of on-board facilities and other amenities, the guests were able to experience for themselves the splendour of Shinas. The 65-metre, multi-purpose passenger vessel, which can carry 208 passengers and 56 cars, effortlessly glided along the capital area's coastal waterway.
It had veered out from the port sideways, using water-jet propulsion, before turning round and setting forth on its inaugural official voyage. At a speed of 20 knots (barely cruising speed for the world's fastest high speed catamaran, but top speed for many similar sized vessels) and keeping as close to the coastline as possible, passengers were able to get a grand sea-side view of the harbour, Mutrah Corniche, Riyam with its striking decorative incense burner, Al Alam Palace, Mirani and Jalali forts and the rugged coastal mountain range that typifies the Sultanate.
Once out at high seas, the ferry showed its mettle as it went flat-out at its top speed of 51 knots (100 km per hour). Shinas showed its enhanced manoeuvrability, as, on reaching Bandar Khairan, it slowed down and seamlessly performed a 180-degree turn to head back to Port Sultan Qaboos. Commenting on the introduction of the service, Mehdi al Abduwani, Chairman of NFC, stated: "These vessels will play a vital role in the development of coastal towns of Oman, as our plan is to connect all coastal towns to promote tourism into more remote areas and improve community relations, access and the creation of employment for Omanis."
Shinas is a state-of-the-art vessel with many unique features in terms of performance, comfort and safety. Together with its sister vessel Hormuz -- scheduled for delivery in two months -- they are the world's fastest diesel driven passenger catamarans, he added. With regard to safety standards, provision of on-board services and commencement of operations, the chairman said, "We maintain the highest safety standards to ensure the safety and comfort of passengers. Services on board include catering services, kiosk, personal entertainment system -- to be included in the near future, internet and mobile phone connection.
"We will commence our services from Muscat-Khasab-Muscat on July 30 with Shinas, and Hormuz will join the service in two months. This premier service will permit nationals and tourists to travel to the Musandam Peninsula without any boarder crossings." He added that they will initially be operating the vessels with an international crew and will gradually train Omanis to take over operations. Once full operations are underway -- with an entire fleet of five high speed ferries, two will be operating in the north, one in Masirah and two in the south, said Al Abduwani. The chairman told the Observer that, this new venture is set to boost marine tourism in Oman.
He said that the 300-mile trip to Khasab from Muscat, would take 6-hours. It offers passengers an alternative mode of transport and a chance to take in beautiful scenery and view marine life. He added, hopefully, all five ferries will be operational by mid-2009. Travel and tour executives aboard Shinas agreed that this venture would enhance tourism in the Sultanate and regionally.
Hoteliers and other representatives of the hospitality and tourism industry, in fellow GCC states, have already expressed interest and have been making enquiries about the venture. M C Jose, Chief Executive Officer -- Projects and Logistics, Khimji Ramdas the ground-handling agents of this new ferry service, noted that there is no precedence here for this type of service, adding that they will initially be concerned with the procedures required for the new venture.
He said, all the government authorities concerned have given good co-operation and have come up with user-friendly regulations. The venture is a great achievement and offers much convenience for Omani citizens and residents especially for residents wishing to travel to Musandam, who now need not passthrough UAE boarder checkpoints, as the ferry service sails directly to Khasab Port, noted the CEO.
Shanker Bose, General Manager of Bahwan Travel Agencies (BTA), said it is a great new addition, which will dramatically change the tourism scene between Khasab and Muscat. It will help create a backbone of trade and tourism as well as generate more jobs. He also noted, it could serve the needs of corporate clients, as it offers all amenities necessary for corporate functions.
David Clark, Business Development Consultant, Oman Oilfields Supply Centre local liaison agent of the venture, pointed that it is a joint venture between the Ministry of National EconomyMinistry of National Economy
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the owners and their affiliate NFC; Austral the Australian company commissioned to build the tailor made for Omani waters high speed ferries,which is also charged with managing the service, with FRS GmbH & Company of Germany, in charge of operations.