WITH ITS VARIED AND FREQUENTLY HOSTILE terrain, Oman has spent billions of dollars making all areas of the country accessible by road. However, when speed is of the essence, the only alternative to a long road trip has been air travel--until now. By Rhona Wells in Oman.
Oman's plan to link its major coastal centres with high-speed ferry services is gathering momentum. The first ferries were launched by the National Ferries Company (NFC) company in August 2008 to link the capital city of Muscat with Khasab in Musandam. NFC's first two acquisitions, the superfast diesel-powered catamarans Hormuz and Shinas, are currently deployed on this sector. Billed as the world's fastest diesel-powered vehicle ferries, they are optimised to cover the 225-nautical-mile journey at speeds of up to 50 knots. Passengers take between four and a half and five hours to make the journey--approximately 600 kilometres by road -in comfortable, well-appointed vessels with television, videos and a full meal service. The vessels cost an estimated $35 million each and were supplied by Australia-based Austal, the world's largest builder of fast ferries.
A third ferry, Sawqrah, joined the fleet in March; it will operate on the Shinas/Khasab route. Sawqrah can transport li6 passengers and carry 22 vehicles. The 5z-metre-long, 15-metre-wide ferry can travel at speeds of up to 40 knots per hour.
There are further plans to acquire two new passenger ferries for deployment off the Sultanate's eastern seaboard. The state-of-the-art ferries will operate between Shannah on the Sultanate's east coast, and Masirah Island. These new additions will bolster the company's fleet of passenger ferries to a total of 10 by 2012. This includes two high-speed ferries currently nearing completion at the Italian shipyard Rodriquez Cantieri Navali, and due for delivery during the course of this year. The move underscores NFC's desire to increase its ability to provide a comprehensive coastal maritime transportation service covering coastal towns, villages and communities all along the Sultanate's lengthy shoreline. The latter two high-speed ferries will operate between Salalah, the Hallaniyat Islands, Hasik and Shuwaymiyah in Dhofar.
The five ferries make up NFC's core fleet of high-speed catamarans capable of top speeds in excess of SO knots.
Giving a fillip to Oman's sea transportation, the newest addition of ramp systems to load vehicles and goods on board the ferries between...