The region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean, the birthplace of three religions, was already in the 1st millennium B.C. a centre of sea trade with India. From the 7th century A.D., Islam did spread and around the year 1300 Osman I of Turkey started to submit the region. With World War I the Osman empire ended and in 1927 the British recognized Saudi Arabia, the biggest state of the peninsula, as an independent kingdom. The Arabian peninsula is the place of world's richest oil resources and the Emirates showed a way into future.

Dubai (Hans Soelch sr.)

Indian Mail
The way for conveying the British Indian Mail was the Red Sea - see main chapter Indian Ocean. However, there were also other options of a route through the Osman Empire, ruled by the Sultan. After an expedition by Francis Rawdon Chesney had crossed Mesopotamia in order to find a faster way for the Indian Mail, the India Board ordered Chesney to organize the Euphrates navigation. Henry Blosse Lynch (later the owner of a Tigris shipping firm) procured the Sultan's approval and in 1835 the two river steamers "Euphates" and "Tigris" were completed at Antakya. The "Tigris" was sunk in a dust storm. The "Euphrates" took in October 1836 at Basrah the Indian mail from the "Hugh Lindsay", suffered an engine failure in the Lamlun swamps, a native boat had to take over the mailbags, they were attacked by Arabs and finally the mail arrived in London three months late. After France had got in 1856 a contract to build the Suez Canal, England obtained the Sultan's approval for the Euphrates Valley Railway, but Prime Minister Palmerston stopped the project in favour of France and the Indian Mail route via Marseilles. With World War I the Osman Empire found its end.

Persian Gulf
"Lingeh, a little town on the Persian Gulf, some two-hundred kilometers distant from Bender-Abbas, had been described as the centre of pearl oyster fishing...The time had come to board the British steamer, which departed for Dubai and Bahrain, the most important places for the fishing industry. The forecastle, the quarterdeck, the cargo decks, they were crowded with people. No single square meter was left empty. Everywhere mats, improvised little kitchens, colourful cloth as sunshades...".

Bernhard Kellermann
Meine Reisen in Asien
(published in 1940)

The British India Line (see chapter India and Burma) opened a service London - Suez - Basrah in 1874. The company acquired in 1910 also the Bombay - Hedjaz Line. The difficulties of operations in the Arabian world were described by E.A. Ewart: "The Persian Gulf was so infested with pirates that regular trading was difficult... and the postal services had to struggle along under a system of being 'farmed out' to local native chiefs, who only allowed the ports to be used in consideration of bribes or 'tribute' payments".

Building the 'Bagdadbahn' by the German empire was one reason for the hostilities preceding World War I, but the line was not completed when war broke out. The British built from 1916 military railways in the Basrah region. The British India Line route Bombay - Karachi - Basrah ameliorated its importance when in 1920 the metre-gauge railway Basrah - Baghdad railway was opened. However, it became connected with the former Bagdadbahn not before 1940. This line was completed as a through connection Baghdad - Istanbul, used by the Taurus-Express, including Wagons-Lits cars. Together with the Basrah - Baghdad line, changed to standard gauge, it continued to be the cheapest way to go from India to Europe still in the 1970s. Passengers of the British India Line could also disembark at Bahrain, take a boat to Damman and continue to Riyadh by train. And from Basrah, passengers could go to Iran by taking a motor-boat Sebah - Abadan.

Shatt-El-Arab during steam age (old card, coll. WS)

Later the P&O Strath Services maintained a route Bombay - Karachi - Dubai - Kuwait with the "Dwarka". Also the Shipping Corporation of India and the Damodar Bulk Carriers offered passenger services to Kuwait, where the travelers could take a bus or taxi to Basrah. In the late 70s the Bangladesh Shipping Corp. called at Bubai. In the 80s the Mogul Line served Bombay - Kuwait. The Pan-Islamic SS Co. Karachi - Doha and later Naif Marine Services as well as Marco Shipping Agency linked Port Rashid in the Emirates with Umm Qasr in Iraq. In the meantime, the Shah's rule in Iran was overthrown in 1979 by Ayatollah Khomeini. In 1980 a brutal war on Iran was started by Saddam, whose rule ended with the Iraq war of 2003.

Persian and Arabian Gulf Ferries
Tylos Ferries introduced with the car ferry “Al Salam Taba 1” a service from Mumbai (Bombay) to Doha, Dubai and Muscat in Oman – one of the longest ferry routes of the world, listed by ShipPax. In 2003 Marwan acquired the “Aphrodite II”, built in 1968 for the Atlantic S.N.Co., announcing to employ her on India – Iraq services, and in 2005 the “Rugen” and “Dronning Margrethe” II were sold to Marwan Shipping for a similar purpose. ShipPax did not mention it and Ferries (Sept. 2005) informed that the two ex-Scandlines vessels went straight to Alang scrapyard, under North Korean flag.

Valfajr hi-speed (Valfajr Shipping Co., 2010)

“Masirah 4” and “Sawqrah” of NFC at Al Khasab, 2015 (WS)

However, there are also modern services around the Gulf, and the wealth of the oil-rich countries gives reason to expectations for future. Services were crossing the Gulf on routes from Khoramshar and Busher in Iran to Kuwait and Bahrain as well as from Bandar Abbas to Doha and Sharjah. The importance of Bandar Abbas had been increased with completion of a rail link with Tehran. Then sanctions hit IRISL, the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines. A subsidiary of IRISL is Valfajr Shipping Co. (VSC), established in 1986, operating also hi-speed services. A catamaran of Valfajr had started to cover the 85 miles between Bandar-e-Lingeh in Iran and Dubai in 3 ½ hours. A web notice of 2011 described Valfajr-8 as “the only shipping company to go to the UAE with passengers and vehicles.” Other information mentioned only Iranian ports.

In 2007 the fastest diesel-powered waterjet catamaran, the “Shinas”, was delivered by Austal to National Ferries of Oman. This National Ferries Company listed (in 2015 via the HSC catamarans “Shinas” and sister “Hormuz” for 208 pax and 56 cars and a service speed of 48 knots with a recorded maximum for “Hormuz” of 56.3 knots, the HSC catamaran “Sawqrah” and sisters “Al Hallaniyat” and “Masirah 4” for a maximum of 40 knots and a small landing craft “Halaniyat”. The fast services were described by the NFC booklet having been created in 2008 for serving the coastal areas of the Sultanate, with the future plan of adding some international neighboring harbors. And a wonderful lady at the service center answered the question, if they’ll go to Iran, “we hope so”.

“Shinas” of NFC at Al Khasab, Oman 2015 (WS)

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Red Sea

Sharm El-Sheikh, 2009 (WS)

The Red Sea, connected from 1869 by the Suez Canal, was served by the various mail lines to India and the branch lines to East Africa - see the relevant chapters. In 1875 Sir John Fowler, consultant of the Khedive, made the proposal of a railway from Egypt to Massawa or another Red Sea port in order to accelerate the Indian Mail - in vain. Massawa is the port of Eritrea, from 1889 an Italian colony - see chapter Africa.

In the Red Sea, the Khedivial Mail Steamship Co., well-known for the Levant routes, was the provider of services. That company had been formed in 1870, immediately after opening of the Suez Canal. Its predecessor on Red Sea routes was the Majidiya Company, founded in 1857, then succeeded by Aziziya Misriya. Towards the end of the 19th century, Cook's timetable mentioned Khedivial Mail Steamers in the Red Sea only with a route Suez - Yambo - Jeddah - Suakin, Sudan. Before the outbreak of World War I, Bradshaw's Guide listed the Khedivial Mail with a route from Suez to Red Sea ports and Aden. Suez was connected once-weekly with Port Sudan and Suakin. In 1885 the British had started to build the Suakin - Berber railway with Indian broad gauge material, but then the Mahdi locked up the Sudan, until it was opened with the offensive of 1896. As reefs in the port of Suakin were a danger for shipping, a Cape gauge railway was built from Shaykh Bargut, the later Port Sudan, in 1900 reaching Halfaya (Khartoum North). Mail for the Sudan arrived via Brindisi - Suez and, as Railway Gazette reported in 1910, there was a once-weekly connecting express Port Sudan - Khartoum, comprising also sleepers, diner, and a chartered private saloon could be added. In 1920 the shares of the Khedivial Mail Line were acquired by P&O, but the company's identity was maintained. Services to Arabia and the Sudan continued.

Khedivial Mail Line, ad 1936 (via timetableimages)

Passenger trains at Port Sudan and construction work on the Berber railway (WS: Kap-Kairo)

"Mecca" of Khedivial Mail Line, the former "Lady Rodney", at Algiers on 5 April 1953 (photographer anonymous, coll. WS)

In 1952 the Egyptian monarchy was overthrown by General Nagib, in July 1956 the USA tried to prevent building the Aswan Dam, in the same month Nagib's successor President el-Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, in October 1956 England, France and Israel started the "Suez adventure", the USA re-established peace, but from 1967 the canal was blocked after Nasser's attack on Israel had provoked the "six days war". The "Mecca", sunk in the canal, was the former "Lady Rodney" (8,194 gt) of Canadian National Steamships, acquired in 1953 for Jeddah services, while her sister "Lady Nelson" had become the "Gumhuryat Misr", later "Alwadi", for the Mediterranean - Alexandria route. In 1975 President as-Sadat achieved re-opening of the Suez Canal and in 1982 the Sinai peninsula was given back to Egypt.

Pilgrims' Traffic
Pilgrim services were provided by various enterprises of different countries. The services Java - Jeddah by specially equipped freighters of the Nederland Line, mentioned by Laurence Dunn, are just one example. An odd fate had the motor-ship "King Abdelaziz", acquired by Saudi Lines of M.A. Bakhashab for pilgrims' services in 1964. She had been built in 1922 in the USA as "Missourian", became in 1948 the "Genova" and later the "Flaminia" of the Cogedar Line and was chartered in 1961/62 by ZIM Line, stranded near Jeddah in 1965 and then continued services until 1970.

The Greek ship-owner J.S. Latsis, who had started Greek island services after WWII, concluded a "water for oil" tanker business with the King of Saudi Arabia and arranged also early Hadj pilgrim services. "They slept on the deck and someone had even brought their cattle with them", reported a retired captain. The "Marianna" II (ex "Henrietta", ex "Highland Brigade" of Royal Mail Lines) undertook pilgrim work. According to J.M. Maber, the former "Stratheden" and "Strathmore" of P&O were to join her as "Henrietta Latsis" and "Marianna Latsis".

Another task had the hulks at the coast of Saudi Arabia. The Latsis group sent the "Marianna VI", the former "Aureol" of Elder Dempster Lines, as a hulk to Jeddah. In 1979 followed the "Margarita L", formerly the "Windsor Castle" of the Union-Castle Line and in 1982 the "Marianna IX", the former "Principe Perfeito" of the Companhia Colonial de Navegacao, used as hulks. The "Athinai" of the ailing Greek Typaldos line, once the nice 9,000-tonner "Santa Rosa" (I) of Grace Line, undertook her last voyage with pilgrims from Asia to Jeddah.

Probably the former "Windsor Castle", then "Margarita L", in 2004 near Elefsina, Greece (WS)

"Athinai" of Typaldos, the former "Santa Rosa" (I), Salamis 1979 (WS)

Of course Asian companies served pilgrims' traffic, too. The Mogul Line ("for pilgrimage traffic only") and then the Shipping Corporation of India offered services from Bombay and the Pan Islamic Steamship Co. from Karachi to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. Still at the beginning of the 21st century, Cook's timetable listed the Pan Islamic with a service from Karachi and the Shipping Corporation of India with a service from Mumbai (Bombay), both for pilgrimage traffic only. But pilgrimage by air developed rapidly.

Red Sea Services
The ABC Shipping Guide listed e.g. in 1978 services between Suez and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia by Arab Navigators and Jeddah - Hodeida in Yemen already with a car ferry "Alpasha" of Saudi Lines. And there were still some passenger-cargo services crossing the Red Sea. Cook's timetable mentioned (e.g. in 1983) services Suez - Jeddah by Misr Edco Shipping, Mohamed Sadaka, Najd, Saudi Maritime Transport and Jeddah - Hodeida by Saudi Lines.

The Sudan has achieved independence in 1956. The Sudan Navigation Co. was founded in 1954. Their motor-ships "Suakin" (1926/ 2,335 gt, the former "Brabant" of Fred Olsen) and "Sudani" (1929/ 1,927 gt, ex "I.K. Ward") were introduced on a Port Sudan - Keddah - Suez route. Around 1971 Hussein Mohamed Fayez & Sons acquired them and the old "Brabant" continued services as "Radwa". In 2005 the timetable listed still the Port Sudan route by Fayez, but at least the additional call at Berbera in split-up Somalia seemed questionable and new information was not found.

"Al Sudan" of Misr (old card, coll. WS)

"Al Salam Carducci 82" of El Salam Maritime, Suez 2006 (The Egyptian, via Wikimedia)

The Red Sea was notorious for shipping catastrophes. In 1991 an Egyptian ferry on a Jeddah - Suez service hit a coral reef near Safaga and sank within 15 minutes. 476 people died. The ship was the car ferry "Salem Express" of Samatours. She had served the Corsica route as "Fred Scamaroni" and in 1982 she was acquired by Lord Maritime Enterprise of Egypt, which sold her in 1988 to the Samatours Shipping Co., an Egyptian private enterprise, owned by the Salem family.

In 2005 the ferry "Pride of Al Salam 95" of El Salam Maritime sank after colliding with a bulk carrier near Suez. In 2006 the car ferry "Al Salam Boccaccio 98" left Duba in Saudi Arabia at 8 o'clock in the evening, caught fire at half past nine and at 3 o'clock in the morning the vessel capsized within a few minutes, taking thousand people with her down. The ship had been built in Italy in 1968, three decks were added in order to raise capacity from 500 to 1,400 passengers and in 1998 she was sold to Egypt. Fire and instability in spite of additional sponsons were considered the cause of the catastrophe. A curiosity was the arrival of the "El Salam 97", the formerly German train ferry "Deutschland", in 1997, laid up. She had been acquired for pilgrims' traffic. El Salam Maritime of Egypt continued to be listed as the traditional operator of the Red Sea services.

The fate of second-hand ships transferred to the Red Sea probably never can be traced completely. The "Erimo Maru" of 1972, later "King Minos" of Minoan, was employed from 2005 by Namma Lines as "Mawaddah". In 2006 Namma Lines took over the former "Torres" of Tirrenia as "Ramah" for Safaga - Duba services. The car ferry "St. Columba" of Sealink, then "Stena Hibernia", "Stena Adventurer", "Express Aphrodite", became in 2007 the "Masarrah" of Namma Lines, maintaining her HSW paint scheme, employed on the Jeddah - Bur Sudan (Port Sudan) route.

Modern Red Sea traffic developed. Hi-speed services between Egypt and Saudi Arabia were opened by El Salam Maritime and by International Fast Ferries. Hi-speeds were introduced between Egypt and Aqaba, Jordan, by Arab Bridge Maritime, founded in 1985 by the governments of Jordan, Egypt and Iraq. In 2007 the company acquired the former "Pegasus Two", one of the Fincantieri MDV1200 monohulls, renamed "Queen Nefertiti".

In 2006 Greek ship-owner Apostolos Ventouris chartered out the monohull hi-speed "Panagia Parou" for Red Sea services and started operations Safaga - Jeddah with the larger "Aeolos Kenteris" (2001/11,705 gt) in charter of Namma Lines. In 2008 it was announced to employ the French-built hi-speed monohulls "Aeolos Kenteris", "Panagia Thalassini", and "Aeolos Kenteris II" on services between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. In that year NEL Egypt was founded. Its Web site described the fleet consisting of "Elios Kanteros", "Red Sea I" and "Red Sea II". In 2009 however, the "Aeolos Kenteris" (ex "Red Sea I") and "Panagia Parou" (ex "Red Sea II") returned to Greece.

"Aeolos Kenteris" of NEL Lines, Piraeus 2005 (WS)

"Panagia Thalassini" of C-Link in 2006, later to NEL Egypt (WS)

"Aeolos Kenteris" and "Red Sea II" (right), at Perama, 2009 (WS)

Cook's timetable mentioned e.g. for 2008, apart from the traditional ferries of El Salam, Misr Edco, Najd Trading and Fayez, hi-speed services Hurghada - Sharm El Sheikh by Silver Moon and Nuweiba - Aqabah by Terbo Cat and Arab Bridge Maritime. The magazine Ferries reported delivery of the Austal catamarans "Riyadh" and "Cairo" to the Maritime Company for Navigation, a present by the Saudi Arabian royalty, to be employed from 2009 between Safaga and Duba, Saudi Arabia.
Generally, a complete survey of Red Sea ferry shipping cannot be given, for information is scarce.

The former kingdom of Yemen was split up in 1997. Hodeidah in the Yemen Arabian Republic Sana was connected with Jeddah by the drive on-drive off ferry "Alphasha" of M.A. Bakhashab's Saudi Lines. For the communist Yemen P.D.R. of Aden, Cook showed not any shipping service. The difficult task of re-uniting the country was solved between 1990 and 94, but insecurity continued.

A surprisingly daring initiative was started by Sheikh Tarak Bin Laden, proposing a gigantic bridge between the Yemen and Djibouti. In 2009 a ferry connection was to start and by 2025 the bridge should connect the continents. Cook's timetable of 2008/09 mentioned only a once-weekly shipping service between Al Mukha in Yemen and Djibouti with 30 to 36 hours traveling time.

Yemen, Bab el Mandeb Strait (WS)

Sinai, near Ras Mohammed (WS)