With the sun rising astern of us and on a calm, windless morning, we approached the Omani port of Salalah. This heavily industrialised port is not at all like our previous Omani call, Muscat. The city stretches for miles along the coastal plain, while behind it, high mountains can be seen through the haze.
The port itself is 14 miles, 22 kilometres, from the city and lacks the architecture and beauty of our previous port-of-call. No craggy peaks with watch-towers as we enter the harbour; instead all one can see are container ships and lofty container cranes.
The city hosts the summer residence of the Sultan of Oman and there are ship’s tours to UNESCO World Heritage sites, the tomb of Job and Oases, however I stayed on board, as did the ladies; no markets to raid and pillage, for the day we called was a Friday, a Holy day and therefore such attraction were closed. My cabin resembled a Korean Nail spa, all 3 of them sitting in the day-room with lamps and nail lacquer, busying themselves, all the while chatting away to the ‘nines’.
It was Thomas, our Staff Captain, whose turn it was to ‘drive’ and take us into the harbour. Again, although our compulsory pilot boarded, he showed little interest in taking the con and we were left to complete the transit ourselves, far more acceptable to us on the Bridge. It is almost 5 miles from the pilot’s embarkation point to the berth; down a buoyed channel and into the harbour, which in itself is almost 1½ miles from entering to berthing.
Past the busy container ships, cargo wharves lined with dhows and a warship, flying the South Korean ensign and then a swing to port, berthing on a wharf which is in dire need of some renovation.
Nowadays, one seldom sees tyres still used as fendering, although they were common years ago, yet here they still have them.
We pass dhows, loading cargo for their trade between Oman and Somalia.
The wharf has old railway lines and breaks in the concrete surface, which the authorities cover with a large, blue tarpaulin. No taxis are allowed in the port, so shuttle buses take guests to the main gate and here they can haggle a price; even so, I am told that it is far, far more expensive than their counterparts in Muscat.
On the 31st March, far away in Italy, we took possession of a beautiful new ship, the “Konigsdam” and by way of celebration we held a party for the officers and crew, the foredeck being the venue. Blazingly hot, we assembled for a group photograph, followed by pizza and soft drinks.
Having made inroads into the emails and paperwork (and not wanting my nails done), I took the opportunity to have a massage in the spa and after that; I was good for absolutely nothing for a while.
Our guests returned and all on board in very good time, we managed to sail early, an opportunity for saving fuel. Raoul, one of our 3rd officers took her out, his first ever time of ‘touching the handles’ and one could tell that he was nervous. (I can still remember, even though it was over 30 years ago, of being given the same opportunity, on the FE V, a ferry, while entering Zeebrugge, Belgium; on completion of the docking and with no injuries to passengers, crew or structures, I felt as if I was on Cloud 9). Raoul managed very well and I’m happy to report that we are still in one piece.
As I write, we are sailing west-south-west, 70 miles from the Yemeni coast and using the Internationally Recognised Transit Corridor, or IRTC for short. This is, as the name implies, a route for larger vessels to and from the Red Sea. It was established in the ‘bad old days’, when the Somali pirate scourge was at its height and vessels that chose to, would join convoys, escorted by warships through the worst areas. The convoys still exist, however, these days, not all join them.
Tomorrow, the 3rd, we pass the Bab-El-Mendeb, or “Gate of Tears”, the straits between Yemen and Somalia and thus enter the Red Sea, shortly after that we are no longer in the High Risk Area and I, for one will sleep a little easier.