Oman’s $8 billion Duqm superport dream

A small fishing port on the east coast of Oman, Duqm is undergoing a major transformation to become a superport of the future.

Ambitious plans are underway to turn what was once a fishing village of 10,000 people into one of the Gulf’s busiest seaports and tourism hubs.

With almost $8bn of investment on the horizon, Duqm will transform into a 2,000 square kilometre powerhouse zone driving Oman’s economy forward, according to Ismail Al Balushi, the Deputy Chief Operations Officer of the Special Economic Zone at Duqm. He added that the planned expansion in the port has the potential to beat the best by 2020.

Plans are underway to complete the special economic zone around Duqm by 2020, in accordance with the government’s economic diversification plans, and Al Balushi says the town’s strategic location on the Arabian Sea is what places it ahead of other cities in the region. “We want to give people a choice that is different to Dubai and Abu Dhabi and Duqm could definitely become that. Duqm is good news not only for Oman, but the rest of the Middle East as well,” said Al Balushi, speaking exclusively to the Times of Oman.

“Its location on the open coast of the Arabian Sea means ships that come here don’t have to go all the way to the Strait of Hormuz, which is a very congested waterway in the region.

“We are therefore working with many companies to make sure that this is a reality, because Duqm is very close to the international marine route, and the Arabian Sea links the city to many of the world’s most populous nations, including India, Pakistan and plenty of Africa, so it makes sense for ships and companies to invest here,” he added. To spur on the Sultanate’s ambitious diversification agenda, SEZAD, Duqm’s Special Economic Zone Authority, is targeting three categories: tourism, logistics, and industry.

“We have already built a dry dock and a port in Duqm so that ships can come and deliver their supplies here,” explained Al Balushi. “We’ve spent on infrastructure OMR 2.4 billion and a further industrial investment of OMR 1.3 billion.”

But Al Balushi says that this is only the tip of the iceberg. “The Chinese have planned an investment of OMR 4.2 billion in Duqm, spread across 26 projects, and we also have a joint venture with Kuwait when it comes to an oil refinery which will be operated by Oman Oil,” he added.

“We have earmarked an area of 2,000 square kilometres for the SEZAD, and when it is done, we foresee it contributing to about 5 per cent of Oman’s net Gross Domestic Product.”

Duqm’s rapid growth has also been catalysed by the government’s Tanfeedh initiatives for economic expansion, which were greenlit late last year.

“We are coordinating very closely with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry and many other government ministries and organisations who have given us full power to hire talent and skill for the projects which will take place in Duqm,” revealed Al Balushi.

“We have a one-stop station for companies to register for work and industrial permits as well as submit the designs for the projects they will be taking part in, and that makes it very easy for them to contribute to the SEZAD as it helps streamline the process,” he said.

“The area is question is about three to four times the size of some countries in the world and there are plenty of job opportunities available as well: to construct the refinery, for example, will generate 30,000 jobs, while its operation will require another 2,000 jobs,” added Al Balushi.

Duqm SEZAD overview

What is it?

The Special Economic Zone at Duqm is a project established by the Government of Oman under Royal Decree number 119/2011 to diversify the Sultanate’s economy, moving away from its traditional oil and gas-based sources of income.

Investments are expected to top OMR10 billion by 2022.

Where is it?

Duqm is located on the coast of the Arabian Sea, about halfway between the capital, Muscat, and the southern city of Salalah.

It takes about six hours to travel by road, with national transportation authority Mwasalat operating buses between the two cities, while flights from Muscat to Duqm are also available.

The SEZAD is spread over a total area of 2,000, of which 800 have already been developed, with the remaining earmarked for future projects.

What will it have?

SEZAD has been divided into eight areas:

1. Port

2. Dry Dock

3. Oil refineries

4. Airport

5. Heavy, medium and light industries complex

6. Residential and commercial areas

7. Tourism centre

8. Logistics hub

The government of Oman’s vision is to turn Duqm into a logistics, shipping and tourism hub on the Arabian Sea, bypassing the now much-travelled Strait of Hormuz, and saving ships valuable time in traversing that narrow body of water.

In addition, a petrochemical and aquaculture plant have both been planned, with priority given to naturally occurring resources in Al Wusta Governorate.

Due to Duqm’s mild winters and less severe summers, efforts are also underway to boost tourism in the region.

What are the advantages of investing in SEZAD?

1. 100 per cent freehold by foreigners

2. Tax exemption for up to 30 years and renewable for a similar period

3. Easy recruitment of expatriate manpower for projects in the area

4. Issuance of entry visas and residency permits for expatriate manpower and their families, in addition to the facilitation of customs procedures

5. Registration of business and industrial activities

6. Issuing licenses for tourism projects and providing environmental permits