Travelling between Qeshm and Khasab is easy. Shooties only take about 45 minutes to complete the trip by speedboat. Usually the whole process of going to Khasab, picking up the goods and coming back takes place at night, and the goods reach Qeshm before sunrise.
The shooties bring back goods like cigarettes, clothing, satellite receivers, medicines, household appliances made in Asia, dry food stuffs, and sometimes even frozen meat. [According to Iran’s state-run Mehr News Agency
, about $5 billion worth of goods are smuggled into the country every year]. I never saw them smuggle anything that could be used for industrial purposes. Shooties also take some things from Iran to Oman, for example goats and sheep, but also, unfortunately, illicit drugs like hashish and opium. They also bring along diesel fuel, which is very cheap in Iran, and sell it to passing ships they meet in the busy straight.
The police in both countries leave the shooties alone, especially in Oman, where investment in the impoverished area of Khasab has greatly improved the local residents’ living conditions. In the worst case scenario, the issue is resolved with a bribe. Still, shooties try to unload their shipments on isolated beaches, far from the island’s main city.
Boats used for smuggling can be seen in the background of this photo by Afshin Valinejad.
“The life of a ‘shootie’ is not easy; many lose their lives during storms”
Nevertheless, the life and work of a shootie is not easy. They don’t make much money
, and navigating the waters of the Persian Gulf at night is dangerous. Boats don’t use any lights to avoid attracting attention. Shooties even use empty cans to conceal the light of their cigarettes when they smoke. Many shooties lose their lives during storms. Some of the shooties are women, which the locals called “khale”, which means “aunt”. Like the men, the female khales load and unload cargoes. They are very appreciated as they are less likely to arouse suspicion from the authorities. Both men and women, but even more so for women, usually belong to a shootie “gang” or have to pay a gang to transport their cargo.
In Khasab, I have seen warehouses of over 4,000 square meters built by Iranians. Not only are they in plain view, but their owners don’t seem at all worried about getting into trouble. The merchants I met stock their goods in these warehouses until the price of a specific item goes up in Iran, and then smuggle it over. Locals know what these warehouses are used for, but don’t seem to mind. It’s interesting to note that the people living in Khasab are predominantly Salafists who would usually be anti-Shiite, but they apparently tolerate these Shiite Iranian businessmen who bring in so much money.