The quickening pace of development in Muscat was unmistakably advertised at the end of August when the final commercial cargo was unloaded at Port Sultan Qaboos, the largest port servicing Oman’s capital.
From that date, all cargo previously shipped to the port has been diverted to Sohar Port, about 90 minutes’ drive to the north. The transfer has been demanding and not without its problems.
The end of commercial port activities in Port Sultan Qaboos in Muttrah area of Muscat is a turning point for the sultanate. It was developed in the 1970s to provide a modern gateway for cargo into the sultanate, then at the early stages of its first oil-driven boom.
Muttrah had been for more than two centuries the principal commercial harbour for Oman while Muscat harbour a couple miles to the south was preserved for the navy. The port supported a polyglot community: some originally from the interior beyond the Jebel Akhdar to the west but many came from more distant places including Muscat’s distant domains in Gwadur in what is now Pakistan, Dar es-Salaam and Zanzibar in what is now Tanzania and Mombasa in Kenya. In the bustling streets around Port Sultan Qaboos, you would hear Hindi, Urdu and Swahili interspersed with English as much as you heard Arabic.
Those that love Muttrah may be saddened by the end of all that, but they shouldn’t be. The future for the area is now the subject of a far-reaching urban re-development plan in Oman and one of the most ambitious in the region.
Oman’s Ministry of Transport & Communication has been given responsibility for the project which could cost RO 1.2bn-1.4bn ($3.2bn-3.8bn) and take up to 12 years to complete. The site totals 1.2 million square metres.
Plans call for the creation of a Waterfront Development Company to deliver the project. Consultants are being invited to bid for the contract to advise about the structuring of the company.
“The aim is to develop a high quality waterfront destination that enhances the historical area of Muttrah,” said associate director for the Middle East & India at Atkins Bradley Wright who worked on the project’s proposed masterplan.
“The plan is to transform the Port Sultan Qaboos into the region’s premier tourist destination,” Wright said. “It’s also to provide greater access to the public to the waterfont so it becomes an integrated public water front.
“We looked at international port redevelopment projects including for Valetta, Genoa, Cape Town and Baltimore,” Wright said. “It is vital we reintegrate the port area with Muttrah and the city and that we incorporate as broad a range of projects as possible.
Wright said the proposed masterplan calls for eight redevelopment zones:
- Waterfront heart: 26.4 hectares
- Royal Yacht squadron area.
- Commercial port: 9.4 hectares
- Cruise liner zone: 40.4 hectares
- Superyacht marina: 11.5 hectares
- Tourist hotel zone: 16.1 hectares
- Leisure park zone: 4.0 hectares
- Community and residential zone: 10.5 hectares.
“The corniche from Muscat is going to have to be upgraded,” Wright said. “We also need to widen the corniche.”
“There is real potential to capture the cruise liner business,” Wright said. “But it’s important to attract the right type of visitors that spend money. We are trying to ensure the standards for the cruise port are international class. We also want to attract visitors when the liner season is over in the high summer. A homeport cruise terminal is a possibility for the project and possibly a superyacht facility.”
The capacity of the port basin will be expanded to 22 berths from 13. This will include here dedicated cruise line berths.
Wright said the new transport infrastructure required will include:
- A new main access intersection off Al Mina Street
- A main spine route through the site
- Dedicated secure access to and from the royal yacht zone
- A hierarchy of secondary and distributor routes
- New signaled intersections
- Parking for up to 5,400 vehicles.
A multi-modal transport network is proposed, including water taxis and cycle routes, Wright said.
Wright said it’s estimated that redevelopment of Port Sultan Qaboos will create about 27,000 direct and indirect jobs in construction and operations. At least 9,000 of those jobs will be taken by Omani nationals, he said.
“The project has royal approval and is now proceeding,” Wright said.