© Paul Cowan qatar_17614642
© Paul Cowan

As Qatar battles major boycotts, Oman’s ports of Sohar and Salalah are set to handle its regional sea trade, while airlines, including Iran Air, are carrying large quantities of food imports.

Since last week, when seven countries cut ties to Qatar, carriers have been working out new routings to avoid a direct link between the UAE’s ports and Qatar’s.

With container hubs at Jebel Ali, Khar Fakkan, Fujairah and Abu Dhabi no longer able to ship directly to Qatar, Oman is set to become the key transit point.

Maersk and MSC are providing alternative feeder loops connecting with main lines at Salalah and Sohar. Maersk, which had stopped accepting cargo for Qatar, has now resumed services with transhipment via Salalah, with feeders to Doha every 10 days. The first sailing will be on 19 June. MSC is offering ad hoc connections to Doha, and will add a regular sailing from Salalah from the end of June.

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The Ocean alliance’s MEA2 service has also stopped calling at Doha, and added an ad hoc call a Sohar. Import cargo already loaded for Qatar will be transhipped at Sohar on feeder vessels supplied by Milaha Maritime & Logistics, the shipping arm of Qatar Navigation. The line is providing six services a week to Sohar and Salalah from Doha.

Buyers of Qatar’s energy exports are reportedly seeking smaller vessels, but will face higher per-barrel transport charges.

The new links will help Qatar to continue to get supplies, but much of the foodstuff normally brought by land over the border with Saudia Arabia and by ship, will need to be moved by air.

In fact, the largest ever airlift of cattle – some 4,000 Holstein cows in about 60 flights – is being planned to maintain milk supplies into the country, at an estimated cost of $8m.

The cows, from Australia and the US, were originally due to arrive by ship to a new dairy near Doha. Now the businessman involved has said he is looking to put together air charters.

While airlines not connected to the blockade may continue to fly scheduled services to Qatar through the seven countries’ airspace, air charters will still need to apply for permission – but it is not yet known whether it will be given.

So far, Turkey has replaced most of the products which had disappeared from Qatari supermarkets, and Morocco and Iran have also stepped up to provide imports.

Iran sent five aircraft on Sunday, and three ships. It said it planned to provide 100 tonnes of fruit and vegetables every day – three Iran Air aircraft are said to be arriving daily. Qatar has received 66 tonnes of meat from Iran in the past two days, with a further 90 tonnes scheduled in the coming week.

Qatar Airways is likely to be involved in charters, but has been banned from the airspace of the seven countries. It has been reported that air freight rates have gone up as demand intensifies, and fuel costs rise owing to longer flight times. Qatar Airways Cargo was unavailable for comment.

But this morning, CEO Akbar Al Baker said: “Qatar Airways’ global operations continue to run smoothly, with the vast majority of our network unaffected by the current circumstances.

“Our focus is on s ensuring that we continue to deliver our award-winning service. Our network expansion continues with two new destinations launching in the next month. As far as we are concerned, it is business as usual.”

He added: “This blockade is unprecedented, and it is in direct contradiction to the convention that guarantees rights to civil overflight. We call upon the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to declare this an illegal act.

“We are not a political body, we are an airline, and this blockade has stripped us of the rights which are guaranteed to us.”

The carrier said it had had significantly increased the operations of its global call centre and social media.

Meanwhile IAG Cargo, which shares freighter services with Qatar on several routes, said: “We continue to operate our daily flight between Heathrow and Doha and our schedule remains as normal. We have made no pricing changes.”

Qatar Airways reported its full-year results this week. Cargo revenue grew 13.5% to QR6,388,618 ($1.7m). Volumes rose to 1.1m, up nearly 20%.

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