Muscat: Travel between Oman and Pakistan may soon be a matter of hours by sea, if a fast ferry service between the two nations gets the green light.
Plans to introduce a fast ferry service between Muscat, and the Pakistani port city of Gwadar are nearing completion and may soon be available to the public, according to Dr Ahsan Iqbal, Pakistan’s Interior Minister.
“Discussions between Oman and Pakistan to start a fast ferry service between Gwadar and Muscat are nearing completion,” said Iqbal, speaking to Times of Oman.
“We are waiting for the Oman government to finish their discussions on this, and then, I would like to invite the government of Oman to Pakistan so that we can finalise the matter.
“I am sure this will lead to the strengthening of bilateral ties between our two countries, promote closer relations, as well as (encourage) business between Oman and Pakistan,” he added.
Currently, some 275,000 Pakistanis live and work in the Sultanate and represent one of the largest expat populations in the country. The availability of such a ferry service will provide an affordable and fast mode of transport between Oman and their homeland.
“I don’t see why a ferry service between Pakistan and Oman should not be viable, because at present, there are many services that connect Oman and Iran,” noted Iqbal, who also serves as Minister for Planning, Development and Reforms.
“The distance between Oman and Pakistan is shorter than that between Oman and Iran, so I am sure this would work well.
“Oman and Pakistan have a unique history, in that about one-third of Omanis have their roots in Pakistan, because so many of them have their origins in Baluchistan,” he pointed out.
Iqbal was in Oman to attend the Oman Ports Conference, organised by ASYAD, which was established by the Sultanate to transform the nation into an international logistics hub. Pakistan’s plan to develop stronger port connectivity between the two countries will aid ASYAD’s efforts.
It will also help Oman become an important node in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which aims to make western China a hub for global trade. More than $62 billion (OMR24.25 billion) is to be invested in Pakistan as part of this plan, with Oman acting as an important nodal point on the global shipping lanes to Africa, South Asia and Europe.
Discussions on the fast ferry service between Oman and Pakistan have been underway for a while now. Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s former prime minister, had hailed the move in 2017, when Dr Yahya Mahfoodh Salim Al-Mantheri, Chairman of Oman’s State Council, made an official visit to Pakistan.
“Pakistan and Oman are natural allies due to their geographical proximity and (the efforts of) the leadership and the government. The people of Pakistan hold His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said and the people of Oman in high esteem,” remarked Sharif at the time. “This initiative will start a new chapter of friendship between the two countries.”
Oman also runs fast ferry services between the mainland and its northern governorate of Musandam, which controls partial access to the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20 per cent of all global oil trade passes.
This service was launched in 2008 and was counted among the fastest in the world at the time of its launch.