Nestled at the northern tip of Oman’s Musandam Peninsula, Khasab boasts a unique geographical position. It lies strategically at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, overseeing the bustling Strait of Hormuz. This positioning is not just a scenic marvel but also a pivotal point in regional trade dynamics.
The Unique Trading Dynamics with Iran
Khasab’s proximity to Iran, just across the strait, has fostered a unique trade relationship, particularly evident in the sheep and goat trade. Iranian traders export these animals into Khasab’s local port, tapping into a demand that stretches across the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. This trade, intriguingly, is more than just a commercial transaction; it’s a lifeline that supports many families and businesses in both regions.
Image: Port in Khasab. In the left of the image you can see the loading ramps for the speed boats. And the boat on the right with the wood hull and blue top is the boat departing for UAE.
The Journey of Livestock and Goods
The trade cycle is fascinating. Iranian sailors transport about 4,000 sheep and goats to Khasab in small speed boats, from where these animals are dispatched via trucks to holding yards over night for aggregation. The following day they are on route to their final destination in neighbouring countries via larger ships. The return journey for these sailors is equally crucial. They load their vessels with electronic goods and American cigarettes, items that hold high value back in Iran. This cycle of exchange, albeit simple, is a reflection of the trade of livestock throughout the entire region and the difficulties faced with disease control.
Image: Every afternoon the trucks loaded with sheep and goats make their way back to the port to load onto larger vessels
Navigating Through Challenges and Legalities
This trade, while vital, is enveloped in layers of risk and complexity. For starters, it operates in a grey area under Iranian law, making the entire process technically illegal in Iran. Sailors must skilfully evade the Iranian coastguard and navigate through the perilous waters of the Strait of Hormuz. The strait, notorious for its heavy traffic of oil tankers, poses a significant navigational challenge, especially given the overloaded nature of these small vessels. It is made especially challenging as the boats are simple speed boats.
The trade is legal under Oman law and the animals enter and leave the country under customs provisions. But their destination is also part of the grey trade. The trade previously involved the land transport of sheep and goats into the UAE until animal control began testing and finding too many disease positive animals. Consequently, the animals are now loaded back onto larger vessels and transported illegally into countries of the Persian Gulf. Consequently having a major negative impact on the ability to monitor and control disease incursions.
Image: Speed Boats arriving in Khasab after an hour long boat ride with roughly 20 sheep or goats
Impact of Global Politics
The recent escalation of United States sanctions against Iran has inadvertently amplified the smuggling activities through Khasab. These sanctions, aimed at curbing Iran’s economic activities, have, in a twist of irony, fueled an underground economy where Khasab plays a pivotal role.