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Masirah Island

Masirah is idyllic for those who really want to get away from it all. It is an island in the Indian Ocean, 20 kms off central Oman coast just South of the Wahiba Sands. The stark rocky landscape is rimmed with isolated beaches whose only visitors are the logger head turtles that come to nest there. Beachcombers may come across a variety of shell fish and other speciments of marine life. There is also evidence of early settlements.

Landscape

The rugged terrain of the island and surrounding rough coastline has led to the appearance of many wrecked dhows on the beaches of the island, most of them well preserved by the salt water and intense heat. About 2:20 A.M. on 21 September 1835, the USS Peacock grounded on a coral reef. At high noon, the latitude was determined to be 20° 00′ north, and the longitude 58° 5″ east. Peacock later obtained this letter:

I certify that during the period I have navigated the Arabian coast, and been employed in the trigonometrical survey of the same, now executing by order of the Bombay government, that I have ever found it necessary to be careful to take nocturnal as well as diurnal observations, as frequent as possible, owing to the rapidity and fickleness of the currents, which, in some parts, I have found running at the rate of three and four knots an hour, and I have known the Palinurus set between forty and fifty miles dead in shore, in a dead calm, during the night.

It is owing to such currents, that I conceive the United States ship of war Peacock run aground, as have many British ships in previous years, on and near the same spot; when at the changes of the monsoons, and sometimes at the full and change, you have such thick weather, as to prevent the necessary observations being taken with accuracy and the navigator standing on with confidence as to his position, and with no land in sight, finds himself to his sorrow, often wrong, owing to a deceitful and imperceptible current, which has set him with rapidity upon it. The position of Mazeira Island, is laid down by Owen many miles too much to the westward.

Given under my hand this 10th day of November, 1835.

S. B. Haines. Commander of the Honourable East India Company's surveying brig Palinurus.

To sailing master,

John Weems, U. S. Navy.

The ocean bottom environment surrounding Masirah is hostile as the majority of the area is covered in either sand or hard rock. There is a swift current flowing through the area with a very sharp halocline visible on the surface of the ocean. The water depth nearby is around 10 m and is not conducive to side-scan sonar searches due to the shallow water and choppy surface conditions. Despite the poor quality ocean bottom, the area is very productive with marine fisheries, and any hard objects (barrels, engines) are immediately colonized by local fauna.

During summer there is normally a constant strong wind which is ideal for kite and windsurfers. Big waves are a result of the wind on the sea side and is so also attractive for wave surfers. Kite and windsurfers can pick spots around the island according to their skill and what conditions they prefer.

On 5–6 June 2007, 7000 people on the island were forced to temporarily leave their homes due to the high storm waves produced by the powerful Cyclone Gonu, the strongest to hit the Persian Gulf region in 60 years.

Geography

Located about 19 km off the east side of Barr al Hikman, the island is generally hilly, especially on its east side. The hills along the east side of the island are separated from the island coast by a narrow sandy plain; they run nearly its entire length. A steep plateau stands in the middle of the range on the northeast side of the island. Along the west side of the island, there are a few low hills separated from the east range by an extensive sandy plain marked by several hillocks. Jabal Madrub, a 256 m high mountain, stands about 13 km south of the north end of the island. Ras Abu Rasas, the south extremity of Al Masirah, is low and rocky. Jabal Suwayr (Jabal al Hilm), a conspicuous conical hill, rises to a height of 153 m, about three km north-northeast of Ras Abu Rasas.

Ras Kaydah, a small and rocky headland, has a conspicuous, conical hill about 20 m high nearby. There are small islets 600 m east and four km north of Ras Kayda. The coast between Ras Kaydah and Ras Zafaranat, about 27 km to the northeast, is regular with a few small rounded projections and a low rocky beach. Haql (Hakkan), a small village in a grove of trees, lies close to the shore about eight km north of Ras Kaydah. Ras Zafaranat is rocky with hills rising abruptly. Between Ras Abu Rasas and Ras Kaydah, about 18 km to the northeast, the coast is indented by small, sandy bays fringed by rocks.

Ras al Ya, about three km northeast of Ras Zafaranat, is the east extremity of the island and consists of a prominent bluff rising to a ridge of hills which extend westward to the center of the island. A conspicuous peak, 99 meters high, stands about three km west-northwest of Ras al Ya. Jabal Madrub rises about five km farther west-northwest. Ras al Jazirah, about six km north-northwest of Ras al Ya, is rocky and well-marked by a black patch on its south side. A sharp peak, rising to a height of 95 m, stands about three km west of this point.

Jazirat Thukhayr, a sandy islet close north of Ras al Jazirah, lies on a drying reef connected to the shore. Drying rocks extend up to 300 m off the eastern extremity of the islet. The coast between Ras al Jazirah and Ras Qudufah, the northeast extremity of the island, about 11 km further north-northwest, is indented by a bay. Ras Qudufah, consisting of two rocky projections about 800 meters apart, rises to Jabal al Jidufa, about 64 m high, a short distance inland. A cairn stands on a hill close south of Jabal al Jidufa. A small monument stands close southwest of Ras Qudufah.

Climate

Saiq has a hot desert climate (Köppen climate classification BWh) with hot summers and warm winters. Precipitation is low, and falls mainly from February to April as well as in the brief monsoon season from June to August.

Tourism

Masirah Island has just opened for tourism. You can still only get to the island by ferry, managed by the National Ferry Company www.nfc.om, which runs six times a day between Shannah to Masirah. By now, there is a four-star-hotel and a kitesurfing camp. For kitesurfers, Masirah is an attractive spot in summer because of the monsoon winds which blow steadily at over 20 knots.

Military base

The British established a military presence on Masirah in the 1930s. A small stone building, a fuel store for flying boats, stood at the midpoint of the island on the west side, and had a stone above the door inscribed "RAF 1936". Reputedly, the fuel store was locked and visiting aircrew used to bring a key, refuel from cans, lock the store and fly onwards.

A dispute between British forces and the local inhabitants in 1942, led by one of two local sheikhs, who were eventually forced to flee the island. During WW II, The British paid the Sultan of Muscat a stipend of £18,000 per annum for affording British forces 'necessary facilities', which included Masirah. A Cabinet Office memorandum of 1945 recommended the acquisition of Masirah on a 99-year lease, US interests in the island notwithstanding (During World War II the United States also had a base on the island.). The Sultan was to be offered an annual payment of £3,750 with an initial premium of £7,500. The base continued to expand into the 1970s, supporting British and Oman forces fighting insurgents during the Dhofar Rebellion and providing transit facilities for long-distance RAF flights.

The British military presence at RAF Masirah extended until 31 March 1977, when Sultan of Oman's Air Force (now the Royal Air Force of Oman) took over the base, which became first SOAF Masirah and then RAFO Masirah. The base included a HF communications hub and a rear link to SAS units based in Oman in support of the actions against rebels in the south of the country (RAF Salalah). United States units used Masirah Island as a staging base in Operation Eagle Claw, the unsuccessful 1980 attempt to free US hostages then held in Iran. The island was subsequently used as a staging area for operations into Afghanistan in 2001.

Ecology

The island is an important hatching ground for loggerhead sea turtles, similar in importance to the beaches at Ras al Hadd and nearby Ras al-Jinz as a hatching ground for green sea turtles.

Economy

Historically, the island had copper ore mining.

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