From Ravindra Nath (Our correspondent) 27 July 2008
MUSCAT - Regular ferry operations between Muscat and the Musandam peninsula, the Sultanate’s breathtakingly beautiful northern-most tip and a much sought-after tourist destination, is finally becoming a reality this week.
The new service, using the world’s fastest diesel driven passenger catamarans, will cover the 200-nautical-mile-distance between Muscat and Khasab, the main city in Musandam, in less than five-and-a-half-hours - and without border crossings. Currently, people here have to travel through the UAE to reach the Omani governorate.
Top executives of travel and tour companies, airlines and hotels and media men were yesterday taken on a short journey off the Muscat coast on Shinas, one of two vessels that will operate the service from Wednesday. Hormuz, the other catamaran, is due to arrive in Oman in the first week of September.
The 65-metre-long identical high-speed boats, each priced $35 million, were built by Australian shipbuilding firm Austal for the National Ferries Company (NFC), owned entirely by the Ministry of National Economy.
Shinas is at present the fastest diesel-powered passenger ferry in the world with cruise speed of 52 knots (about 100 kilometres) per hour, demonstrated yesterday with ease by Captain Alistair Yeats and his crew - even when the boat was taking a 60 degree turn to go back to base at Port Sultan Qaboos, it was smooth sailing! But soon Shinas will be overtaken by Hormuz which has a top speed of 56 knots per hour. Both vessels feature state-of-the-art equipment and plush interiors, and can accommodate 208 passengers in two classes - first and tourist, and 56 vehicles.
Passenger facilities include high quality seating and catering support, all located on a single deck. The vessels also boast a helicopter deck for emergency operations.
Departures from Muscat will be at 9am on Sundays and Wednesdays, while the return trip will leave Khasab at 10am on Mondays and Fridays. One-way ticket fares will be: first class - RO59 (children RO29); tourist class - RO39 (children RO22). Return tickets will cost RO110 (children RO55) for first class and RO72 (children RO40) for tourist class. Prices include two meals either way.
“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,” NFC chairman Mehdi Al Abduwani said in remarks to reporters aboard the vessel.
“This premier service will permit nationals and tourists to travel to the Musandam peninsula without any border crossings,” he added, also stressing: “We have maintained the highest safety standards to ensure safety and comfort of the passengers.”
The original plan was to introduce the ferry service between Shinas and Khasab, but it was altered because port facilities in the Batinah town have not been completed. Abduwani said NFC was hopeful of launching the Shinas-Khasab operations by the middle of next year. Although initially the ferries will be operated by international crew, Omanis will be trained to gradually take over the jobs, Abduwani said. He said the company was confident of breaking even by 2010.
He revealed plans to acquire three more ferries, each costing between $15 million and $18 million. Two of them will operate from Salalah, while the third will ply between Masirah and Shannah. Musandam is noted for its stunning mountain scenery and awe-inspiring coastline, and offers the adventurous travellers exciting snorkelling, scuba diving, hiking, fishing, camping and picnic options. The region is also famous for ‘fjords’ where the mountains plunge into the clear waters of the Strait of Hormuz.
For more details, please call the company on 80072000
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