Qatar Navigation (Milaha), a top Doha-based shipping and logistics group, said it was shifting its regional trans-shipment hub from Dubai to the Omani port of Sohar after a diplomatic crisis in the region disrupted Qatar's trade.
Milaha is setting up a warehousing and logistics operation at Sohar, on Oman's northern coast, and is exploring other opportunities to expand in that country, the company said on Monday.
The plan suggests Qatar is making long-term preparations to cope with sanctions imposed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, which cut diplomatic and transport ties on June 5, accusing Doha of backing terrorism.
The sanctions closed Saudi Arabia's land border with Qatar and also ended direct shipping links between Doha and Dubai's Jebel Ali port, the region's main trans-shipment centre.
As a result, Qatar's imports shrank by more than a third in June and some of its exports, excluding shipments of liquefied natural gas (LNG), were delayed.
In the days after the crisis erupted, shippers including Milaha developed new routes to Qatar via Oman, which has stayed neutral in the dispute, and other countries. Milaha's statement on Monday indicated it was now making long-term arrangements to handle Qatar's trade without relying on Jebel Ali.
Qatar denies that it supports terrorism and there has been no clear sign of a resolution to the diplomatic dispute, with one senior UAE official suggesting Doha could remain isolated for years.
Milaha's logistics base in Oman will increase companies' options to access the Qatari market, the shipping firm said, adding that it currently called at two Omani ports, Sohar and Salalah, and was considering a further expansion of services.
Companies can also use three Indian ports served by Milaha - Nhava Sheva, Mundra and Kandla - as trans-shipment hubs for trade with Qatar, it added.
(Reporting by Andrew Torchia, editing by Pritha Sarkar)