Qatar’s air and sea services are slowly returning to normal as the Saudi-led Arab states that imposed the embargo will consider fresh economic sanctions on Qatar at a meeting in Manama, Bahrain’s capital.
On June 5, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Mauritius and the Maldives severed diplomatic relations with Qatar and stopped flights and ocean voyages to its airports and seaports, creating a crisis for the Gulf state.
Qatar airfreight demand has since returned to normal, and with the introduction of new shipping routes from Asia and Oman, Doha has managed to skirt the embargo, reported The Loadstar.
Since the embargo, Qatar Airways chartered additional freighters and increased its own maindeck capacity on key trade lanes to maintain urgently needed food supplies and traditional cargo flows, according to Air Cargo News.
Despite a 160% rise in cargo imports at its Doha home hub in June, the carrier’s cargo operation still managed to restock Qatari supermarket shelves with “ample supplies of fresh produce overnight”, observed Air Cargo News.
Chief cargo officer at Qatar Airways Ulrich Ogiermann told The Loadstar the blockade had provided some initial challenges, but the carrier had reacted “swiftly” and proven its “resilience”. He added, “Managing such a precipitous increase in imports fully stress-tested Qatar Cargo’s facilities. Thankfully, we had planned well ahead for commercial growth.”
On the port front, Qatari Transport Minister Jassim bin Saif al-Sulaiti told Reuters, “The new port of Hamad will break the shackles of any restrictions imposed on our economy. We are not giving up on our hopes and ambitions.”
Port Hamad, located 40km south of Doha, with an annual capacity of 7.5 million TEUs, is helping Qatar circumvent the blockade with direct imports from China and Oman instead of transhipping them via Dubai, according to World Maritime News.
Tan Hua Joo, principal at liner research services of Alphaliner, told Forward with Toll, “The new port of Hamad has been operational since 1 December 2016 and several carriers, primarily state-owned Milaha, have already been offering alternative connections to this port since the Arab blockade.’’
On September 6, Milaha announced it would launch the fastest direct service between Doha and the Pakistani port city of Karachi next week, reported Al Jazeera newspaper.
Milaha is overseeing the weekly venture, and the first vessel was scheduled to arrive at the newly inaugurated Hamad port on September 11 following a transit time of four days – compared to what would normally be a six-to-seven-day journey.
Qatar ports management company Mwani is also expanding its maritime network by launching several direct shipping services between Hamad Port and several ports in the region, according to Al Jazeera.
The new routes connect Qatar to Sohar and Salalah ports in Oman, Shuwaikh Port in Kuwait, Karachi port in Pakistan, Izmir port in Turkey, Mundra and Nhava Sheva ports in India, said the Arab newspaper.
An interesting by-product of the Qatar blockade is that many plans, such as the setting up of a dairy industry, have been expedited, reported Air Cargo News.
“We began livestock shipments on board more than 20 B777 charter freighters to Doha,’’ Ogiermann told Air Cargo News. “This is the first time that Qatar has experienced an airlift of this magnitude to support the establishment of a new industry.”
Al-Hayat newspaper, citing unnamed Gulf sources, said the foreign ministers of the four Arab countries are expected to impose sanctions that will gradually affect the Qatari economy.
The Gulf Times reported that the talks were part of the continued consultation between the four Arab states to review their position since the blockade.
However, in a conciliatory move, Bahrain’s foreign minister said the countries involved in the boycott were open to fresh talks with Qatar on certain terms.
“The four countries are ready for dialogue with Qatar with the condition that it announces its sincere willingness to stop funding terrorism and extremism and its commitment to not interfere in other countries’ foreign affairs and respond to the 13 demands,” Bahrain foreign minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa said, reported Al-Hayat.
In response, Qatar Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani told Indian CNN-News18 that Qatar shows zero tolerance towards terrorism, its sympathisers, financers and supporters.
Al Thani also said Qatar has been the most developed country in the Gulf region for 20 years. It is home to many foreign universities; the religious landscape is varied and everyone practices his religion freely.
“Qatar has evolved in its own way and the siege we have been facing is an incentive for us to move forward towards development policy,” he said.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told reporters in London that if the rift with Qatar continued for two years then “so be it”, reported Al Jazeera newspaper.
He also lashed out at Iran, which has supported Qatar in the ongoing crisis, saying Tehran’s talk of a possible rapprochement with the kingdom was “laughable”.
“If Iran wants to have good relations with Saudi Arabia, it has to change its policies. It has to respect international law. At this time, we do not see that they’re serious about wanting to be a good neighbour,” said Jubeir.
Qatar’s sudden isolation stems from allegations that it supports extremist groups and for having warmer relations with Iran than some of its neighbours, research firm Drewry observed.
“It appears to be a victim of a much bigger power struggle in the region that has the potential to derail trade to a far greater degree than the blockade itself,” Drewry added.