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U.S. Navy Gains Access to Strategic Omani Seaport

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File image courtesy Port of Duqm

By The Maritime Executive 2019-03-25 14:59:39

The United States and the government of Oman have signed a deal that will allow American warships to call at a strategic Omani port just a few hundred miles from the Strait of Hormuz.

The "framework agreement" will allow American forces "to take advantage from the facilities offered at some of the Sultanate's ports and airports during visits of the US military vessels and aircrafts, particularly in the port of Duqm," state-run Oman News Agency reported. 

The agreement provides the United States with a major strategic advantage. Duqm is on the Indian Ocean side of the Strait of Hormuz, the choke point at the entrance to the Persian Gulf. Iran periodically threatens to close the strait to shipping - especially American shipping - and Oman could give U.S. forces a way to bypass this bottleneck. The strait has historically been the scene of tense encounters between U.S. Navy vessels and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). 

“We used to operate on the assumption that we could just steam into the Gulf,” an American official told Reuters. Today, however, “the quality and quantity of Iranian weapons raises concerns.”

The U.S. Navy will be moving into a busy neighborhood at Duqm. The UK's Royal Navy already has a naval support base at the port, and recently signed a similar agreement for permanent access. Oman's government has also placed high hopes on a Chinese-backed "Sino-Oman industrial park" at Duqm with $10 billion in Chinese investments, but the project has moved slowly amid reports of difficulties between Chinese investors and their Omani counterparts. 

For the Royal Navy, Duqm offers a particularly attractive feature: its harbor is deep and large enough to accommodate the HMS Queen Elizabeth and the HMS Prince of Wales, the service's new aircraft carriers. The site's other important strategic feature is a $4.6 billion, 230,000 bpd oil refinery, which is now under construction.