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MARITIME
In safe waters
Despite its recent origin, AMNAS has taken remarkable strides in making Oman’s waters secure one navigate
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Despite its recent origin, AMNAS has taken remarkable strides in making Oman’s waters secure one navigate
BusinessToday Reports

Sixty percent of the world’s oil passes through the Straits of Hormuz, which lies off the Musandam Peninsula on the northern tip of Oman. The entire navigation through the Strait of Hormuz lies within Omani territorial waters, giving its coastline a vantage position. While this has contributed to the sultanate’s maritime history, it also places the burden of ensuring the safety of ships navigating its 1,709 nautical mile (3,600km) coastline.

In Oman the onus for this rests with the Arabian Maritime and Navigation Aids Services (AMNAS) – a private company that enjoys the right to provide aids to navigation services throughout the sultanate’s territorial waters and its economic zone. Says Stephen Bennett, operations and development manager, AMNAS, “We maintain over 100 aids to navigation from lighthouses to smaller buoys. We also look after aids for the Royal Navy and companies like Oman LNG.” As per international maritime law, every country is responsible for maintaining aids for safe navigation in its waters.

On its radar screen
AMNAS’ primary responsibility is to look after the maintenance and operation of navigation aids – equipment and structures like lighthouses, beacons, racons and buoys. The company has to ensure that the sultanate’s navigational aid network meets the standards stipulated by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). It also works on enhancing existing capabilities to meet current and future maritime needs.

A recent example has been the refurbishment of the Didamar Lighthouse in Musandam at a cost of RO150,000. The upgrade, which started in July 2006, is expected to be completed by the middle of October. The refurbishment will give the 1914 lighthouse a major facelift, equipping it with state-of-the-art navigational aids. Oman has four major lighthouses in Didamar, Mina al Fahal, Ras al Hadd and Salalah. AMNAS has installed new lighthouses in Salalah and Rasal al Hadd at a cost of RO120,000. Apart from lighthouses, it has fitted sector lights – which guide ships into ports – at Sohar port.

“A ship sinks in the territorial waters of Oman every two years. That makes it important for us to mark dangers like offshore reefs,” says Bennett. AMNAS has used specialised buoys (lights) to mark reefs in Duqm and Musandam’s naval base. These buoys emit lights, warning sailors of the inherent dangers that may be lurking around. A red light warns sailors to stick to the right of a buoy, while a green light indicates all clear on its left. A white buoy indicates safe waters or end of a breakwater. AMNAS has installed fairway buoys in Mina al Fahal, Sohar and Khasab. The port marks are in line with the standards laid down by the International Association of Maritime Aids to Navigation and Lighthouse Authorities (IALA).

The company also gives maritime consultancy and training services to recreational ports.

The Barr al Jissah Marina and The Wave consult AMNAS for the kind of navigation aids to be installed to take care of a mix of fishing boats and tourist ships. Not content, the company is looking at acquiring new capabilities, which will enable it to export its skills to other countries like Yemen.

Legal standing
A Royal Decree in late 2003 granted AMNAS the concession to maintain navigational aids. H H Shihab bin Tariq al Said is the chairman and the guiding spirit behind the initiative. Though backed by a Royal Decree, AMNAS operates as a private company responsible for its revenues and bottom line. In lieu of its services it charges a fee from ships with a tonnage of 500 tonnes or more that use the sultanate’s ports and anchorages. “Though it is good value for money, our main purpose is the safety of mariners.” In June 2005, AMNAS became the official national member repre-sentative of Oman at the International Association of Maritime Aids to Navigation and Lighthouse Authorities.

There are 150 navigation aids in Oman, 2,800 in the Gulf and millions of them in the world. And their maintenance is big business. The billion-dollar industry is dominated by the likes of Trinity House, Tide Land Signal Aids and Zeni Light, each boasting of its
own specialisation.

The job though is not without its pitfalls, “The environment in Oman is affected by cyclones, tectonic movements and bad weather which damage our navigational aids,” says Bennett. This makes servicing them imperative. A team from AMNAS visits each of these aids to service them regularly.

For example, the service team checks every buoy (and other aids) once in four months, while their batteries are changed once in two years. Over and above such checks, there are casualties like marine accidents, which need immediate attention.

There are cases of buoys being damaged by ships. In such a scenario, an AMNAS team rushes to the spot. Port authorities are supposed to intimate the company of any breakdown immediately. “We try and respond within 24 hours, but at times the work can take up to a week to complete.”

Future plans
While it operates out of Muscat for now, the company is working on establishing a full-fledged base in Salalah and posting a set of technicians in Sohar and Muscat. “This will enable us to respond anywhere in the sultanate within four hours.”

According to IALA, each navigation aid should have 99.8 per cent reliability. “This means that each navigation aid can be out of order for only two days over three years,”
says Bennett.

Recognising the talent required, AMNAS follows a strict recruiting criterion. It takes on board graduates with diplomas either in electrical or mechanical engineering. They are then made to undergo a rigorous three-month training course either at one of the overseas manufacturing companies like Tide Land Signal Aids in the UAE or Pharos Marine in the UK.

Since most navigational aids are specialised (each buoy weighs five and a half tonnes), hands on training becomes imperative. They are sent to Trinity House in the UK to acquire technical and managerial skills.

The company has a staff strength of six. All of them, except Bennett, are Omanis. AMNAS is now looking at expanding to ten to 15 people. “In the UK there are three organisations of the same size but each of them employs several hundred people.” With AMNAS in charge, ships venturing into Oman waters can rest assured that they are in safe hands.

AMNAS’ CLIENTS

  • Royal Court Affairs and Royal Yacht Squadron
  • Ministry of Defence and Royal Navy of Oman
  • Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries
  • Port Services Corporation – Port Sultan Qaboos
  • Petroleum Development Oman – Mina al Fahal
  • Salalah Port Services Company
  • Sohar Industrial Port Company
  • Oman LNG
  • Oman India Fertiliser Company
  • Khasab Port Services
  • Marina Bandar al Rowdha
  • Barr al Jissah Marina
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