Meet Abdulfattah Ahmed Al Shehhi, the fisherman who grew up on the waters of Oman's Musandam Peninsula

Abdulfattah has been fishing with his family since he was a boy. He now runs a tour company, taking travellers out to see the Norway of the Middle East for themselves.Saturday, 2 November 2019

By Oman Ministry of Tourism
The Musandam Peninsula is jagged with khors, fjord-like inlets where dolphins play.
The Musandam Peninsula is jagged with khors, fjord-like inlets where dolphins play.
photo by Getty
Fisherman Abdulfattah Ahmed Al Shehhi fishes less than he would like these days, but still spends most days out on the water.
Fisherman Abdulfattah Ahmed Al Shehhi fishes less than he would like these days, but still spends most days out on the water.
photo by Nemorin

Abdulfattah skims his sky-blue boat across the gentle waters of the Strait of Hormuz, his white tunic catching in the wind. The sand-coloured rocks of the Musandam Peninsula sit behind him, the Hajar mountains separating the little Omani governate from the United Arab Emirates loom high above.

The coastline is jagged with khors (fjord-like inlets where dolphins play) Abdulfattah knows them all like the back of his wind-weathered hand. He’s been fishing these waters since he was a boy, when he sailed alongside his father and brothers. “Every time I come out here, I feel like new, though,” he says. “I forget everything that’s behind me. The water is clear, you can see the different colours of the sea, the mountains, the sky. Wow. We’re lucky to have this place.”

Abdulfattah fishes less than he’d like to these days, a victim of his own success after founding a tourism company that organises cruises on dhows (traditional wooden-hulled sailing boats). The business blossomed thanks to an influx of visitors drawn to the area’s wild natural beauty and unique culture, although Abdulfattah maintains the real reason they come is the locals. “The people are so friendly and welcoming,” he says, grinning. “We have such a wonderful culture and traditional way of life here.”

Abdulfattah’s company has a fleet of seven boats, including a couple of luxury yachts, but says that travellers tend to prefer the traditional dhows. “They want to experience the real Oman,” he laughs. “Even when I organise transfers, I have to do it by donkey or camel rather than cars or buses.”

Fish makes up a significant part of the Omani diet.
Fish makes up a significant part of the Omani diet.
photo by Getty

Traditions are perfectly preserved in Musandam, etched into everyday life and evident in the trade routes that still exist between the mountain and seaside settlements. “Traditionally, people who live in the cities work on date farms,” Abdullfattah explains. “People in villages by the sea tend to be fishermen, and then those in the mountains keep goats for milk, cheese and butter. Once a week, those living in the mountains still visit the cities, starting early at around 03.00 and travelling by donkey or camel. They carry charcoal, goats’ cheese, fresh honey and oil to sell in the souks. Afterwards, they say the midday prayer, the salat al-zuhr, have lunch with friends and then return to the mountains.”

There’s a similar rhythm to life on the water, Abdulfattah continues gesturing out over the waves to the where the waters of the strait reach neighbouring Iran. “Until recently there was no road between Musandam and any other city or country, and we still use dhows for cargo,” he explains. “Merchants buy fish from the locals before travelling by boat to the UAE to sell them. It’s the same for businessmen; they sail to the UAE and buy all the items for their shops.”

But trade and tourism aside, dhows like Abdulfattah’s are still predominantly used for fishing. “Fish is very important in Omani culture,” he says. “Our fishermen catch everything from tuna and kingfish to barracuda. We eat fish daily, barbequed perhaps, or with rice and sauce. Dates too,” he adds grinning, “we love dates here.”

Despite the success of his business, Abdulfattah still considers himself a fisherman first and foremost. “It’s a job, and it’s my way of life. I never want to lose my culture,” he says. “All Omani people love their home; their country. We don’t want to lose our traditions.” He glances up at the sky, clear blue, and still like the seawater. “And, thanks be to God, we’ve preserved them.”

Essentials

Abdulfattah's tour company, Musandam Sea Adventure, is located in Khasab, on the shores of the the fjords.

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