When we met His Excellency, the Minister of Transport and Communications, he told us about the importance of developing the port activities, increasing the capacity and expanding the ports in Oman. This is why the government invested so much in increasing the capacity for different ports and also diversifying the Port Sultan Qaboos into a tourism hub. I would like to ask you, what are your opinions on the latest developments and the most important activities that you would like to highlight in your sector?
I think the development of Port Sultan Qaboos to be a dedicated tourism port is very important and reflects how tourism is becoming an important sector in Oman. Now you see how people from these huge cruise ships just come out, walk around, spend their money and go back. I think that this is a good idea, as it helps the national economy.
On the other hand, transportation patterns are also changing here. Lot of containers come in and out of Muscat, which need to be shifted to Sohar which is a 2½ hour drive from Muscat. This will add a little bit more ton-mile in terms of land transportation needs. We will see in due course how that will change. But, I think Sohar port has a great potential to grow especially after this development.
And your company is working especially with port of Salalah...
No, actually our fleet calls all Omani ports including, Salalah, Muscat and Sohar depending on customers’ requirements and contracts we have in place. We have also developed in the past 2 years a feeder service connecting and carrying containers between the hubs of Muscat, Sohar and Jebel Ali. This is a new business for us.
Jebel Ali is a very good example of a transhipment port and has been there for a long time. They have all the logistics in place; they have all the services involved and good connectivity with regional ports which makes it very easy to do business. I think it’s very important in Oman to concentrate on ease of doing business in order to be successful.
What about the railway project that is starting right now to connect from Salalah to the coast in Oman and also connecting other gulf countries? How do you think this project will affect your activities?
The railway project, it’s good but we are talking about the year 2018 when we expect the first rail line which connects Al Buraimi (UAE boarder) with the Port of Sohar. It will take time, but it will definitely change the dynamics of logistics. It will be cheaper for shipping lines to drop all their containers in Oman, basically Salalah or Duqm, and transport them inland to other Arabian Gulf destinations by railway because these huge vessels will save time and cost sailing all the way north through the Strait of Hormuz.
We should also keep in mind that having good and state of art ports and other logistics facilities is not enough; we should also have proper software, offices and other resources in order to manage it successfully. So you have to have the mix of the two.
Could you brief about your activities in different ports?
Basically we started in LNG, about 6 LNG vessels whereby we carry LNG exports from Qalhat Terminal to various countries including Japan, Korea, Spain and sometimes to China and so on.
We diversified later and started operating in other areas as well including tankers, bulkers and even containers. In terms of bulk, the latest deal we have is the four newbuild VLOCs, the largest iron ore carriers in the world mainly carrying iron ore from Brazil to Sohar. This was mainly for the VALE Project. We also have some bulk core activities in Sohar. We provide transport to import a lot of Alumina from Australia for the Aluminium smelters of Sohar Aluminium.
We also provide coastal transport mainly for the refined petroleum products of Sohar Refinery and ORPIC in Oman. Other than that, we also have the container service which basically links Sohar and Muscat ports to Jebel Ali, as I mentioned earlier.
I would like to ask you what would you identify as the main strength of your company regarding the competition?
I think our main strength is in providing maritime transportation to all imports and exports of Oman. In this sense we are a national carrier. We run a modern, efficient and the state of art fleet that is attractive for customers and also enhances our competitiveness. In addition, having in house technical skills, expertise and capabilities in ship management is indeed of value to Oman Shipping Company.
I would also like to ask you of course about your commitment to education in the country. We know that Oman Shipping Company is committed to the Oman Sail Youth Program. Could you tell us a bit more about this program and its achievements?
Oman Sail program is just one of our programs, but we also provide other programs. For example, we sponsor about 20 to 30 students every year where we give them scholarships and train them either in Sohar at the International Maritime College, IMCO, or we send them to the UK or Australia just to have the diversity. The scholarship is for 3 years and then 1 year sea training onboard our vessels and then they can join the fleet as afloat officers.
Now why we chose Oman Sail, this is because we have synergies looking at the youth of the country in terms of how to develop leadership and how to make these people independent in terms of discipline and this exactly what we do for these students who come and work with us. We will be more than happy to have them working at Oman Shipping Company should they choose a carrier in Shipping as opposed to sailing.
So to finish this interview, I would like to ask you a bit more of a personal question. Peter Drucker a writer used to say the best way to predict your future is creating it. I would like to ask you in that sense, how do you see your company Oman Shipping Company in the next 5-10 years?
I see Oman Shipping as an integrated maritime transport company. We’d like to add value to the entire supply chain, all the way from the upstream to downstream. I would like to see Oman Shipping Company more integrated with the national projects and Oman Shipping Company being the first choice transport partner for everyone in Oman, not just government but even private companies. Further, I also want to see Oman Shipping not just in Oman, but also in the GCC region in the next 10 to 15 years as the preferred maritime transport provider. 20 years and beyond, I expect Oman Shipping to grow further internationally and compete with major shipping companies on cost, quality and efficiency.