About 40km off the coast of Dhofar, due east of Hasik, lie the Khuriya Muriya: a miniature archipelago consisting of four small islands clustered around the main Hallaniyah Island (hence their alternative name, the Hallaniyah – or Hallaniyat – Islands), which is also the location of the islands’ only permanent settlement.

The Khuriya Muriya have a rather curious history. In 1854, Sultan Said ceded the islands to the British after they had proposed a scheme for harvesting guano from them (the foreign secretary, Lord Clarendon, it is said, reciprocated the sultan’s largesse by sending him a snuffbox in return). Guano was extracted for only a few years, however, and the islands were subsequently attached to the Aden Settlement, in what is now Yemen. They remained a British possession until 1967, when they were returned to Oman – despite Yemeni claims that, as part of the former Aden adminstration, they properly belonged to them.

The Khuriya Muriya’s considerable tourist potential has yet to be tapped, although work began in 2010 on a US$100 million scheme to develop Hallaniyah Island’s harbour, while plans to start a regular ferry service with the mainland have also been mooted. The islands boast a string of unspoilt beaches, plentiful birdlife and turtle-nesting grounds, as well as some fine dive sites, including the wreck of the British ship, The City of Winchester, sunk by German forces in World War I. There are currently no organized dive trips, and the only way to reach the islands – for now – is to arrange a ride with a fishing vessel in Hasik, Sadah or Mirbat.

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