India and Oman are still pursuing the possibility of an under-the-sea pipeline that could cater for New Delhi’s energy requirements in a big way, Oman Ambassador Sheikh Humaid Bin Ali Bin Sultan Al-mani told The Hindu.

“According to the previous feasibility study, the gas pipeline is very costly, technically speaking. I do hope that if the technical aspects are overcome, we will be able to implement such projects. It would be good for India’s energy security. Some companies are working on it,” he said.

Analysts say the proposed 1,100-km pipeline has an extremely challenging technical dimension because at a certain point, its depth will be over 3,500 metres or four times deeper than any pipeline laid under the sea so far.

On the evolving India-Oman ties as reflected in the first-ever joint air exercises in the Gulf country, the Ambassador credited the breakthrough to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Muscat less than a year ago.

Defence ties

During the visit, both countries agreed to accelerate defence cooperation by upgrading their naval exercises, Tamar-al-Tahir (benign fruit), and renaming them Naseem-al-Bahar (sea breeze). With the air dimension added to military-to-military ties which have a long standing component of training Oman defence personnel in India, Sheikh Humaid believes, both countries are on track to achieve the long-term vision of strategic ties. As he pointed out, Oman was the first Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) country with which India developed defence ties and its Foreign Minister, Yusuf Bin Alawai bin Abdullah, was the first from an Arab country to visit India as a mark of solidarity after the Mumbai terror attacks.

Fighting piracy

On the anti-piracy front, Oman has offered Indian naval ships berthing facilities. “Oman is keen to help the Indian Navy fight piracy. We have provided all the technology to assist the Indian Navy, bearing in mind our force limitation, to ensure that fighting piracy is our common goal,” the Ambassador observed.

The cooperation takes other forms as well. When an Indian ship encountered a problem off the northern part of Yemen, its officers were flown immediately to Muscat and from there to India.

As for business ties, Sheikh Humaid predicts a flurry of activity in the coming days, with both sides actively finalising the GCC-India Free Trade Agreement (FTA), New Delhi poised to sign a memorandum of understanding on tourism that will open the doors to hospitality majors, the Taj and the Oberoi, and Oman Oil about to announce its investment plans.

Besides, a consortium of Indian firms has been allocated Block 18 to prospect for oil and gas “but we want Indian companies to invest in a bigger way. I keep encouraging Indian businesses to use Oman as a hub to utilise our FTA with the U.S. We have created industrial zones and the port of Salana in the south handles container traffic which can be used to send goods to the U.S. and other destinations,” he pointed out.

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