As unilateral US sanctions against Iran snap back, pressuring the country’s limited foreign currency reserves, the Islamic Republic is increasingly paying attention to marine travel as a major way of boosting its underdeveloped tourism sector.
Iran has had several plans in the works in recent years to develop sea lines, some of which date back to a decade ago, but many of them were left dormant in the face of challenges, including but not limited to weak infrastructures that could not support the envisioned development.
But as prospects of returning US sanctions got more serious, officials have ramped up efforts and heralded tangible results recently. They have managed to establish or reactivate a number of sea travel routes that are expected to lend a hand to the tourism sector that has fallen victim to a foreign currency crisis caused by sanctions.
Iran has mostly capitalized on vast potentials offered by its southern ports that grant access to the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman. Plans are also underway for northern Iran that borders the Caspian Sea.
> Khorramshahr-Basra Sea Travel Line Revived
On Saturday, the director general of Khorramshahr Province’s Ports and Maritime Authority said a sea line in which vessels will take passengers from Iran’s western Khorramshahr to the neighboring Iraq’s Basra and back has been revived.
“Today, two rapid vessels, each with a capacity of 80 passengers, made the journey from the port of Basra to the port of Khorramshahr,” Mohammad Mohseni was also quoted as saying by the official news website of the Ministry of Roads and Urban Development on the same day.
The sea route was established four years ago, but soon fell into disuse.
According to Mohseni, each voyage takes about an hour and vessels move passengers on the sea route on all even days.
The official also expressed hope that in the near future, especially during the Arbaeen pilgrimage, another bigger vessel with a capacity of 200 passengers will join the route.
Mohseni pointed out that the International Persian Gulf Terminal located in the port of Khorramshahr is able to develop sea travels to all corners of the world in terms of infrastructure, calling on the private sector to lend a hand and subsequently assist with tourism incomes.
The port of Khorramshahr was among the main sea routes of Iran and the most lucrative port of the country prior to the war Iraq started by attacking Iran in 1980 that lasted for eight grueling years, inflicting lasting scars on the region. It never fully recovered, but officials have been trying to utilize its potentials in recent years.
> Bandar Abbas-Sharjah Cruise Line Operational
Iran has also established a sea travel route between Bahonar Port in the southern Bandar Abbas and Sharjah Port, using services of the country’s only cruise ship Sunny, which previously only operated in Iranian waters from Kish Island.
According to Allah-Morad Afifipour, director general of Hormozgan Province Ports and Maritime Organization, the ocean-liner made its maiden voyage on the first day of the current Iranian month (Sept. 23) with 91 passengers.
The ship, made in Sweden, was purchased on the back of openings created by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the formal name of Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, and in March 2017 became the first Iran-owned ocean liner to touch the waters of Persian Gulf since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
The cruise ship, 176-meter-long and 23-meter-wide with seven floors and 130 cabins, can carry up to 418 passengers in five classes, and boasts other facilities such as fully equipped rooms, coffee shops, cinema, sauna, shops and a playing room for children.
> Bandar Abbas-Khasab Route to Be Revived
According to Ashkan Mokhtari, director general of Hormozgan’s division of Iran Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, the route between Bandar Abbas and Oman’s Khasab, which operated last year but was discontinued after a short period, will be revived soon.
“Based on our plans, we can also employ the capacities of the Sunny cruise ship to establish this route,” he said on Friday, pointing out that the final coordination is being undertaken with Hormozgan’s local ports and maritime authority.
Hormozgan is planning to boost its local tourism sector, an important area of which is marine tourism since it boasts 14 islands in the Persian Gulf waters.
> Iran-Pakistan Sea Route in the Making
Tehran and Islamabad are working to establish a sea route between the key southern Chabahar Port located in Sistan-Baluchestan Province and its sister Gwadar Port in Pakistan’s Balochistan Province about 170 kilometers to the east of Chabahar that could significantly boost tourism.
The latest measure in line with activating the route came on Friday when the Minister of Maritime Affairs of Pakistan Seyyed Ali Haider Zaidi and Mehdi Honardoust, Iran’s ambassador to the South Asian country, met in Tehran.
The two sides discussed ways of expanding bilateral cooperation on ports and shipping, IRNA reported, with the sea route emerging as a main talking point.
Each year, more than 200,000 Pakistan residents travel to Iran from various parts of the country as pilgrims on their way to neighboring Iraq. Establishing a sea route can prove vital in boosting marine tourism between the two countries.
> Bushehr-Doha Route to Be Reactivated
As port infrastructures are in place, a sea travel and tourist line between Iran’s Bushehr and Qatar’s Doha will be reactivated by the end of the current fiscal year in March 2019, according to the director general of Bushehr Province’s Ports and Maritime Organization.
Siavash Arjmandzadeh on Saturday also told IRNA that since sea travels in the Bushehr Province had been limited to nearby Iranian Kharg Island in recent years, authorities are expanding the route, and also aim to take passengers to ports in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain in the near future.
“In the first step, outbound sea travels from Bushehr Port to Doha Port in Qatar will be restarted,” the official said, adding that Qatari counterparts have visited the port in recent months and welcome the expansion.
> Russia-Caspian Sea Route in the Near Future
Iran’s efforts in boosting its marine tourism sector are not limited to the south. It has long envisioned routes from the northern Caspian Sea that will be operationalized in the foreseeable future.
On May 7, just a day before US President Donald Trump announced he will be unilaterally withdrawing the US from JCPOA, Iran announced it will soon launch a sea route from the Caspian Port to Russia.
“The viewpoint of trade with Russia for the next century has been envisioned while designing the Caspian Port,” Reza Masrour, the director general of Anzali Free Trade Zone Organization, said in a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s special envoy for Caspian Sea affairs at the time, ISNA reported.
Masrour reassured that the sea line will be inaugurated by the end of the current Iranian year, saying “Russia is our main priority for cooperation.