Shabab Oman : Sultanate’s maritime ambassador


Shabab Oman, the Arab world’s only tall ship, completes 20 years of service in the Royal Navy of Oman. The Observer traces the history and maritime exploits of the pride of Oman’s navy


SHABAB Oman was the consummation of a dream project envisioning a splendid tall ship that would serve as a striking symbol of the Sultanate's ancient and glorious maritime heritage.

She was built in Scotland in 1971 from solid oak and an assortment of other fine Scottish timber, and is ranked among the world's tallest ships today.

Arriving in the Sultanate in 1976, Shabab Oman was initially placed under the purview of the Ministry of Youth.

Three years later, she was inducted into the Royal Navy of Oman (RNO) as a sail training ship.

The sail training ship Shabab Oman — pride of the Royal Navy of Oman

Over the years, she has taken part in numerous international regattas and historic voyages, having visited over 30 countries and logging thousands of nautical miles.

Not surprisingly, this graceful craft is regarded by many as the Sultanate's unofficial maritime ambassador on a sailing mission of peace and friendship.

Shabab Oman’s crew takes part in celebrations during a visit to Japan

In her principal role as a sail training ship, Shabab Oman serves as a shipboard facility for a variety of basic and advanced training courses in sailing and high seas navigation.

Onboard courses are conducted for batches of 24 students and usually run for a couple of weeks. Recruits are drawn from the Sultan's Armed Forces, the Royal Guard of Oman and the Royal Oman Police.

In 1983, Shabab Oman began the first of many historic voyages that would leave in her wake glory and acclaim for the flag that proudly fluttered from her mast.

Her maiden mission was a tour of GCC states as part of the Year of the Youth celebrations. Carrying a group of youngsters from the GCC states, she called at ports in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, finally reaching Qatar on the eve of the GCC Summit, which was held in Doha that year.

Three years later, in 1986, Shabab Oman embarked on her first transoceanic voyage to the United States as a participant in the maritime show organised to celebrate the anniversary of the construction of the Statue of Liberty in New York.

Before sailing off from Salalah, however, the ship had a distinguished visitor on board, in the person of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos, Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.

The vessel arrived in New York seven-and-a-half months later after traversing a distance of 20,256 nautical miles.

Shabab Oman pictured in an European port

Buoyed by the success of the US cruise, Shabab Oman sailed the following year to Australia to join other tall ships in celebrations marking the arrival of the first inhabitants on the island-continent.

She was the only tall ship from the Arab world to take part in the celebrations. The voyage covered a distance of 17,825 nautical miles, and included halts at several destinations in Australia.

France was next in her sights when the multi-masted, ocean-going tall ship set sail on 1 April, 1989 to take part in the celebrations marking the anniversary of the French Revolution and the international declaration on human rights.

En route, she took part in a pageant of tall ships held in Britain on the occasion of the 800th anniversary of London's mayoralty.

Showing off their musical skills during a port call in a foreign destination

Young visitors get souvenir buttons pinned on their chests by Shabab Oman's crew

In April 1992, Shabab Oman sailed from Italy to join tall ships in the 500th anniversary celebrations of Portuguese explorer Christopher Columbus' discovery of America in 1492.

The celebrations took place on the shores of the Atlantic. The craft returned to the Said bin Sultan Naval Base in October that year, after logging a total distance of 16,664 nautical miles.

Two years later, Shabab Oman again sailed to France to participate in the 50th anniversary of the Normandy landing during the Second World War.

While at berth in France, the tall ship received scores of visitors who toured her shipboard exhibition of Omani handicrafts.

Her voyage took her to 13 other ports in nine countries in the region. Following His Majesty's directives, Shabab Oman sailed for St Petersburg in Russia in 1996 to participate in the 300th anniversary celebrations of the founding of the Russian Navy.

She also took part in the international Cutty Sark race for tall ships, which began at Rostock, Germany, and concluded at Copenhagen, Denmark.

Her participation won her a prestigious award — a silver shield for the best tall ship to travel the longest distance without penalty points. While in port at St Petersburg, over 14,500 people visited the craft.

Several thousand also came on board when she called at Rostock. Among the distinguished visitors was German President Roman Hertzog who received an Omani khanjar as a souvenir.

In winning the silver shield, Shabab Oman became the first Arab tall ship to have bagged an award in Cutty Sark regattas, breaking a long tradition of awards hitherto being claimed exclusively by European ships.

In February 1997, the doughty craft added another feather to her cap by winning a prize in the 1997 Cutty Sark regatta in Osaka.

This time, the ship was cited for its crewmanship, also making her the first competitor in Cutty Sark races to bag prizes in two consecutive events.

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