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The period following the decline of the Portuguese hegemony in the Indian Ocean/Arabian Gulf was characterized by an ongoing process of commercial penetration of the region by other European nations, mainly the Dutch, English and the French who competed with and succeeded each other. The transfer of the Indian Ocean commerce from the hands of the Portuguese to the Dutch, and from the Dutch to the English during the 17th and 18th centuries is of much significance in the history of the Arabian Gulf. During this period, Dutch and English commercial activities gained strength in the region and the VOC (the Dutch acronym for the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie), or the United East India Company of the Netherlands and the English East India Company were the key forces of continued European mercantile operations in the East. The Dutch bid for independence from the Spanish empire, the outbreak of war between Spain and England, and the gradual closure of the great international spice market in Antwerp, paved the way for Dutch and English maritime expeditions to the Indian Ocean in search of sea-routes and new markets.

Within two decades from the 1580s, Amsterdam developed into the leading financial and commercial city on the North Sea, and by the 17th century the newly independent Dutch Republic became the chief seafaring nation in the world. From 1595, a small number of Dutch trading ventures attracted by the profitable spice trade of the East organized expeditions to Asia. Competition had nearly killed the trade, but at length they merged together and formed the VOC in 1602. The VOC and the English East India Company however, were not crown monopolies like that of the Portuguese, but were joint stock companies owned by private merchants and managed by professional administrators. Considerable information about the Indian Ocean trade, and the strength and weakness of the Portuguese position there had been acquired by the Dutch from the Itinerario of Jan Huyghen van Linschoten published in 1596. The existence of a vast integrated network of trade in the Indian Ocean encouraged both the VOC and the English East India Company to launch their commercial operations in the Indian Ocean stretching from the Red Sea and the Gulf to the South China Sea, and exercise control from Amsterdam and London.